Kathmandu, April 23
After surviving a massive drop of 33 per cent in tourist arrivals in 2015, tourism experts are worried that the sector may face another setback due to delay in reconstruction drive.
Tourism sector was hit with a double whammy last year — the massive temblors in April and May, followed by tension at the southern border points. These were major factors that kept tourists away, but their numbers have started to go up gradually with the situation normalising.
While this is good news for tourism entrepreneurs, the fact that the government has yet to reconstruct the infrastructure damaged by the quakes has made them anxious. "If the government further delays reconstruction of damaged infrastructure like trekking trails, heritage sites and roads, the length of stay and spending of tourists will go down," said Bikram Pandey, the founder of Himalaya Expeditions.
Currently, per day spending of a tourist is around $70 and average stay is around 12.8 days in Nepal. This means a tourist spends $905 on an average during a visit to Nepal.
Government dillydallying in reconstruction could have an adverse effect on tourist spending, especially with major tourist destinations, including heritage sites, still in a shambles.
The Department of Archaeology (DoA)has said reconstruction and maintenance of 49 heritage sites damaged by the earthquake will start soon. The government had opened some heritage sites for tourists after the safety audits.
"We have already completed the process of awarding bids to contractors," said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, director general of DoA.
Reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged trekking trails has also not started. Around 150 km trekking trails were damaged. Out of total damaged trails, the Department of Tourism has reconstructed only 15 km in Manaslu region in collaboration with Nepal Mountaineering Association.
"The National Reconstruction Authority has allocated Rs 50 million for reconstruction of trekking trails and we are preparing to utilise the money to repair the damaged trails of Annapurna Circuit and in Langtang," said Koshnath Adhikari, engineer at the Department of Tourism. "After completion of survey, the department will estimate the cost for reconstruction and maintenance of trails and award the bid."
The government had conducted safety-audit of popular trekking trails of Annapurna circuit and Khumbu region through the internationally acclaimed US-based engineering firm Miyamoto, which has identified the need for quick reconstruction and realignment of existing trails in both regions because of possible landslides and sinkholes.
The DoT has been reconstructing trails based on the report of Miyamoto at Khumbu region. The Khumbu region has opened.
A rapid assessment of damage and loss conducted by the National Planning Commission showed that revival of tourism sector requires Rs 38.71 billion.
On a positive note, average tourist expenditure had surged by three-fold during the three months after the earthquake to $200 per day, according to DoT. However, the expense was made mainly by the rescue and relief teams from various countries, representatives from development partners and international non-governmental organisations.
The arrival of tourists has plunged between September and February, partly because it was the off-season but mainly due to the border blockade by Madhes-based political parties.
Now, as the agitating parties have withdrawn their protest and with the onset of new tourist season, the flow of foreign visitors has gradually started to rise.