Tourism industry on tenterhooks
By this time of the year the tourism industry is getting ready to greet thousands of tourists and preparing to welcome the tourist season. However, this year the industry will have to manage with only a fraction of that. The obvious reason behind this slow trickle of tourists is the April earthquake with the international media portraying Nepal as an unsafe zone. This has had a severe impact on the tourism sector and is affecting the economy.
The majority of stakeholders believe that the pace that the government is working at and the resource it is employing is not sufficient to change the perception the world has of Nepal today.
“Government is taking a lot of time to come up with solid promotional and recovery plans which is evident from the way it is working,” said Ashok Pokhrel, President of Nepal Association of Tour Operators adding, “Sadly, it seems like it is not even considering the recommendations on rapid tourism recovery plans handed over by Pacific Asia Travel Association.” According to him, adverse effect on the tourism sector is already being witnessed due to the delay in recovery effort. There is already a decline in the number of both inbound and outbound flights and hotel bookings. “If the situation does not improve, qualified manpower in the industry might be forced to leave the country for better job prospects,” he said.
Yogendra Shakya, Vice Chairman, Nepal Tourism Promotional Campaign, stated that by the end of July, the tourism sector alone had Rs 100 million loss compared to the income made last year. Highlighting the fact that the private stakeholders alone cannot solve the problem, he said, “To be heard in the international arena, the government should take the lead. But to our disappointment, the government has yet again failed to deliver as is apparent in the new budget.”
However, on the contrary, Tulasi Prasad Gautam, Director General of the Department of Tourism is of a different opinion. According to him, the government is in the planning phase and is working toward promoting Nepal. He said that the government is ready to support the sector in every way possible and has allocated additional budget.
He said, “For the first two months, we were not in the proper state of mind ourselves and were, therefore, reluctant to invite tourists to the country,” adding, “But we can see a slight improvement in the footfall of tourists’ in the valley. Bookings for flights, hotels and adventure sports have gone up a notch hinting the revival of the tourist season.”
That said, according to him, the number of tourists will still see a decrease by 30 to 40 per cent this season as compared to last year.
Too little too late
“Immediately after the earthquake, there was a sharp decline in the number of tourists visiting Nepal. And at the moment, although the government claims to have witnessed an increase in the number, the reality is far from what is being projected. The bookings for hotels and flights are yet to pick up,” said Shakya.
According to him, the damage caused to cultural heritage sites in the country was only about 10 per cent but the media highlighted calamity and losses with exaggeration. He said, “This false portrayal of Nepal sowed the seeds of fear among potential tourists.”
Lacking pro activeness
Citing that the number of tourists coming to Nepal this year will go down by at least 50 per cent and the revenue generation will decrease by almost 60 per cent, Shakya said, “It will take about two years for tourism to bounce back. There were about 800,000 tourists coming to Nepal last year. This year the scenario is dismal.”
According to him, campaigns like Nepal Tourism Year might help in the revival of tourism faster.Realising the need to be strategic and not wait for the government alone to fix things, the airlines, hotels and other stakeholders have come up with special offers.
Ramesh Kumar Adhikari, Deputy Director General of the Department of Tourism said, “Nepal Tourism Board has been working internally to bring back tourists to Nepal. We have approached different embassies for diplomatic missions in order to send out a positive message in regards to their safety concerns.”
According to him, under the short term plan, the government has reached out to different countries to spread a positive message and have invited various media and tour operators on familiarisation trips.
Similarly, the damaged trekking trails and heritage sites are to be rebuilt in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology and UNESCO. However, he agreed to the fact that the government lacks central level pro-activeness.
Tourism is considered an important sector in terms of bringing in foreign currency to the country, second only to remittance. On April 25 itself, around 20,000 tourists were expected.
According to Adhikari, in order to pull itself through the situation and provide, authentic information only, the Tourism Recovery Committee was formed on May 7, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“The tourism sector is likely face a loss of Rs 60 billion in a span of six months after the disaster. The economic situation of the country will remain bleak until December 2015,” Adhikari stated.
According to him, they predict that there will be a decrease of 40 per cent in the arrival of tourists this year. He believed that though there would not be a long term economic effect, it would be difficult to retain skilled manpower if this situation continues. “It is too early to say anything. Let us wait till November to evaluate the whole issue,” he said, adding, “However by the end of April 2016 things will be normal as per our data analysis.”