Tourism stakeholders seek sustainable plan

Kathmandu, April 20

Stakeholders involved in the tourism sector have suggested Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai to prepare a sustainable plan during the crisis for the betterment of the country’s tourism sector. Talking about the impact of the coronavirus on the tourism industry, stakeholders have urged the tourism minister to take immediate and effective actions soon after the situation settles down.

The stakeholders presented their views during a video conference organised by Society of Economic Journalists Nepal (SEJON) today titled ‘Impact of coronavirus on tourism sector and way forward’.

Speaking at the conference Deepak Raj Joshi, former chief executive officer of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), said that the country’s tourism sector may face losses worth Rs 160 billion this year due to the coronavirus.

“Travel, aviation and hotel are the sectors that have been highly affected,” he said, adding, “Around 1.3 million people working in these sectors have been affected by the lockdown.”

He, thus, suggested the tourism ministry, private sector and NTB to work together to overcome this situation.

“The current crisis is not like other crises we have faced in the past. Hence, putting aside our previous plans, we have to now make 2020 a survival year for tourism industry, 2021 a recovery year and 2022 a thrive year,” Joshi said. “The industry will struggle to revive for at least the next three years.”

He further stressed on destination visibility during the crisis. “The government has to create an environment to make travellers feel safe to visit our country for which the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has to coordinate with concerned stakeholders to implement a new manual to keep airports, hotels and other areas safe,” he said.

Joshi also said that the ministry has to merge the organisations working under it to utilise the budget.

Meanwhile, Prabin Pandey, second vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), suggested Minister Bhattarai to utilise the Social Security Fund of the private sector. The industry is finding it difficult to pay their staffers so it would be better to utilise the fund for immediate action and to promote domestic tourism for long-term solution, he mentioned.

“Due to the impact of the coronavirus the number of tourists may not go up even after the lockdown ends. As the airfare is also likely to go up after the lockdown, tourists may not prefer to travel,” Pandey said. “So, promoting domestic tourism is the only way out.”

He also said that the government has to think about refinancing and reducing interest rates of loans for the industry.

Responding to the stakeholders, Tourism Minister Bhattarai said that the lack of data has made their work difficult.

“We still don’t have exact data of investors, workers, total investment amount, investment of banks and exact loss,” he said. “We’re working on it and will soon get the data.”

Once the data is compiled, the minister assured that the government will bring suitable relief packages for both investors and workers.

“For instance, the ministry is devising plans to deploy tourism workers in other areas like cleaning mountains and national parks and building foot trails. However, it will be optional for them,” Bhattarai added.

Agreeing with the stakeholders, he said that the government will bring programmes to promote domestic tourism. “The ministry is also planning to provide one-month paid travel leave to civil servants,” he said.

The minister added that as the government is in a rush to prepare the budget for upcoming fiscal, MoCTCA is holding discussions with Finance Ministry to sort out the financial issues of the tourism sector. an at HAMS Hospital.

A version of this article appears in print on April 21, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.