Chitwan lodges likely to re-open

KATHMANDU: Closed lodges and hotels at Chitwan National Park are expected to open from Sunday after a hiatus of almost two weeks.

“Hotels and lodges are likely to open from Sunday but the dialogue will continue,” said Basanta Raj Mishra, president of Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO)

“Currently, the officials are positive about settling the dispute over the closure of hotels and lodges in the park,” Mishra said adding that the closure would create a negative impact on tourist arrivals in the tourist season. Therefore, until a conclusion is drawn the hotels and lodges will continue their operations. He also said that a committee of the Ministry of Forests, Tourism and Finance and representatives from the private sector has been formed to discuss the closure issue.

Seven lodges operate on a lease concession basis in Chitwan National Park. Tiger Tops, the oldest since 1964, pre-dates the establishment of the park in 1973. Tiger Tops’ lease is for 20 years — from 1989 to 2009. Others have 15 years co-expiring after amendment. Leases were renewed twice for Tiger Tops and once for other concessions by negotiated settlement. Other lodges’ leases were amended by negotiated settlement at the instigation of the lessor (to co-terminate with Tiger Tops’ lease), said Tiger Mountain Nepal (TMN) representatives.

According to them, the dispute over lease renewal — contrary to the past practice of timely negotiated settlement — has created uncertainty in international tourism markets and travel trade publications which is bad for Nepali tourism and even for the plans for Tourism Year 2011.

TMN also said that of particular relevance is Clause 6 which states tourist operations inside parks will be given under tender process. Lodge owners’ lawyers cite both clause 6 and the fact that in all earlier times the leases were renewed by negotiated settlement — irrespective of the initiation for renewal or amendment by either the lessor or lessee.

Furthermore, the extant leases all have clauses for “renewal by mutual agreement” — convincing the lodges’ lawyers to conclude that the negotiated renewal process as in the past is legally valid and correct. Tender process has no modalities, is not transparent in Nepal — as seen in recent events in Kathmandu — takes no account of the fact that the lodges own their assets, and not the government, stated Tiger Mountain Nepal.