Coronavirus fear rattles Everest climbing season

Kathmandu, February 27

With the outbreak of coronavirus showing no sign of abating, expedition operators in Nepal fear that the country would bear severe economic losses in the Everest climbing season that runs from March to May.

According to operators, many Chinese climbers have already started cancelling their expedition bookings after the outbreak of COVID-19 that has killed over 2,800 persons and spread in 42 countries.

Pasang Sherpa, managing director at Pioneer Adventure Treks, informed that seven Chinese members from his company dropped their plans to scale the world’s highest peak from Nepal side this spring season.

“Now, we can hardly expect climbers from China, Iran, South Korea, Japan and a few European countries, including Italy, among others,” Damber Parajuli, president of Expedition Operators Association Nepal, said.

No action plan

In addition, lack of government preparedness, as well as action plan, has had an adverse impact on the country’s tourism sector, Parajuli, who returned from Italy last evening without being screened at Tribhuvan International Airport, said. “Looking at the pathetic scene at the airport, I can only feel sorry about the airport authority and other agencies concerned,” he added.

Rishi Bhandari, managing director at Satori Adventure, said that Everest climbing season would certainly face a tough challenge if the government fails to introduce an immediate action plan to contain the COVID-19 threat.

“At least six Italian climbers who planned to scale Mt Everest from Tibet side have already cancelled their booking from my company,” he informed.

Sources said that China would not be opening its Tibet route in the spring season to allow Nepali operators for Mt Everest, Cho Oyu and Sishapangma expeditions.

“The country will certainly bear severe economic losses this season and it will have long term impact on the tourism businesses,” Parajuli opined.

Climbers in dilemma

Saying that Chinese tourists are an important source of income for Nepal, Dr Nima Namgyal Sherpa who operates exclusive Chinese expeditions through his company — Kaitu Expedition  — demanded the government to prepare an action plan to facilitate the expedition operations on different mountains.

“My Chinese clients want to come for spring expedition to Mt Everest. But should they be allowed to share base camp with other country members without being quarantined in Nepal?” he asked, urging the government to clear such confusion.

With COVID-19 fear rising, Mingma Sherpa, chairman at Seven Summit Treks, said that many climbers were still in dilemma whether to join expeditions in Nepal.

“Our company, which runs the largest expedition on Mt Everest each season, has not received any cancellation till date, but many members have expressed their serious concern over the country’s plan of preparedness to tackle the threat,” he said.

Besides, the government’s failure to bring those involved in infamous high-altitude rescue fraud to book and haphazard collection of local taxes from the tourists visiting major destinations, including Khumbu, have already hit hard the country’s tourism sector.

“Mostly, European insurance firms have raised the premium while some of them have also stopped selling packages to their clients for Nepal,” entrepreneurs said, referring to the government’s inaction in the helicopter rescue scam.

The COVID-19 fear has posed another serious threat to tourism and mountaineering businesses, they added.

Bad start for VN 2020

Nepal has already witnessed two per cent drop in tourist arrivals in the first month of Visit Nepal 2020.

Meera Acharya, director at the Department of Tourism, said that DoT will discuss with the expedition operators and other concerned agencies soon to work out on an action plan for spring climbing season.

In the last spring, DoT collected a total of Rs 495 million from expedition royalty, including Rs 442 million from Everest expeditions. Of 381 members, at least 60 Chinese nationals had obtained climbing permits for Mt Everest in 2019, Acharya informed.

The government levies $11,000 per person for foreign climbers for expeditions to Mt Everest during spring season, while Nepali climbers have to pay Rs 75,000 per person. For other mountains above 8,000 metres, the government levies $1,800 on foreigners and Rs 10,000 for Nepali climbers.