With tourist season about to begin, coronavirus hits bookings

Kathmandu, February 23

Bookings for tour and trekking packages have not been satisfactory even though the tourist season is about to begin. Tourism entrepreneurs have said the fear of the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the world has threatened travellers from third countries too.

Nepal has already been losing tourist arrivals from China due to the virus. Moreover, since Nepal is a neighbour of China, travellers from third countries fear that the virus could spread in Nepal as well, said Gopal Shrestha, managing director of Higher Limits Trek and Expedition.

“I recently received a message from a client in Switzerland who wanted to know if Nepal was safe from the virus, which means travellers are worried as Nepal shares a border with China,” Shrestha said. Bookings for the upcoming season are disappointing, he said, adding, “A few months back four groups were in frequent contact with our company for their trip to Nepal but none of them are in touch now.”

According to Shrestha, the number of bookings and queries for trekking ahead of the spring season is not like what it was last year. “Generally, bookings and queries begin from mid-February for the spring season. Most of the tourists book their trips a year before, however, the industry is lifeless at the moment,” he said.

Despite all the promotional activities and the country celebrating Visit Nepal 2020 campaign the industry is silent ahead of the season, he added.

As per Sarita Lama, general secretary of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, around 70 per cent of the bookings for trekking for the spring season has been cancelled so far. “It is mostly the Chinese who travel to Nepal for trekking but since China is in a lockdown due to the coronavirus trekkers who had booked their trips about six months to a year ago have cancelled their trips,” she said.

“Most of the cancelled bookings are of Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean travellers.”

Lama added that a few trekking groups from third countries too have cancelled their bookings as they are worried that the virus could spread in Nepal. “Chinese travel and trekking agencies are closed at the moment which is normal in such a crisis,” she said, “And most of the travellers from third countries also do not want to travel at the moment.”

According to Lama, more than 50 per cent of the trekkers travelling to Nepal are from China.

Meanwhile, Binayak Shah, first vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal, said that the panic that was initially witnessed due to the coronavirus outbreak is gradually declining at present. “When the coronavirus outbreak was first reported towards the end of December last year all the national and international media gave the disease huge space in their publications,” he said. “The situation is still dire in China and some other countries but Nepal has remained free from the virus till date.”

Shah further said that the negative result of suspected patients and of Nepali students who returned from China has helped to spread a message that Nepal has no virus cases so far. Compared to the situation in January, bookings are likely to increase in coming days, he mentioned. “The government and private sector are currently working together to attract tourists from other countries to make up for the loss in number of Chinese tourists,” Shah said.

He further said that it would be good if the government and private sector jointly offer attractive packages for tourists from other countries.