KATHMANDU, OCTOBER 31 The months of October and November mark the peak tourist season in Nepal which usually create a buzz in the tourism sector of the country. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has dampened the scenario this year. This period of the year used to be a busy season for tourism entrepreneurs in previous years. “It actually used to be difficult for us to manage tourists during this season in previous years owing to the difficulties in arranging flights, the overcrowded hotels and staff shortage. However, the situation is totally different this year as we are sitting idle,” said Khem Bahadur Subedi, president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal. Citing that the peak season this year and in previous years are incomparable, he stated, “Due to the ongoing pandemic we are not certain about the flow of travellers to the country.” Nepal attracts thousands of mountaineers and trekkers every year but that number will drop drastically this year, Subedi added. “Even though Nepal is open for international tourists the situation is not conducive enough for travellers to come here,” said Ashok Pokharel, president of Nepal Association of Tour Operators. “No tourist would like to stay in quarantine for seven days even after testing negative for the coronavirus,” he said. “Instead of compelling tourists to stay in quarantine for seven days, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test should be conducted as soon as they arrive at the airport and there should be a quick reporting system. If the PCR test report is negative, tourists should be allowed to move around freely,” Pokharel opined. He stated that lack of clarity and assurance about quality health facilities will also be a barrier in attracting tourists. Stating that the strict rules for tourists arriving in Nepal are not practical, Subedi said, “We have been requesting the government to waive off COV- ID insurance of $5,000 and the mandatory seven-day quarantine rule. Even if it is compulsory to stay in quarantine, it should be for no more than three days.” He further mentioned that either the country should not be open for foreign tourists until next year by when things could be better managed than now or visitors should be facilitated when they do come to Nepal. According to Subedi, instead of just being sceptical about foreigners, the government should control the situation in the country. “Since Kathmandu valley itself is becoming a hotspot for coronavirus infections, foreigners will be reluctant to come.” “If the health safety protocols are followed seriously and we can better manage the crisis then there is a possibility some tourists could come to Nepal,” he said, adding, “Even though there will be tourism activities this year, it will be far less than expected. The sector will probably get back to normal in 2022-23.” Though domestic tourism also has a major role in the country’s tourism industry it is unlikely to see much growth this year due to the pandemic. “Although there has been movement of domestic tourists in destinations such as Manang, Mardi Himal and Langtang for trekking, the flow of people is not as expected,” shared Subedi, adding that people are still scared of the risk of COVID-19 infection and are hesitant to go out of their homes. “Moreover, various travel restrictions and the availability of limited service only are other difficulties at present.” Pokharel added that accessibility, disposable income and sense of security are needed for the domestic tourism to thrive which are lacking among many people at present. Due to these reasons, the number of domestic tourists will not grow this year, he said. “After the earthquake in 2015, Nepal’s tourism sector had hit rock bottom but the sector had gradually got back on track. However, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the sector like never before,” said Ramesh Thapa, vice-president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents. “The current situation has put us in a dilemma on whether or not to invite tourists. However, though the situation at present is dismal we should prepare for the future and hope for the best,” he added.