Pokhara, March 13
Coronavirus scare has left Pokhara, known as the capital of tourism in Nepal, deserted.
March-May is the prime season for tourism. But, coronavirus outbreak across the globe prior to the tourism season has led to cancellation of hotel bookings. “Most bookings at the hotels in Pokhara have been cancelled,” said Western Regional Hotel Association Pokhara Chair Wikal Tulachan. The association has formed a seven-member crisis Management Committee led by Wikal Tulachan. Committee General Secretary Ganesh Raj Pahadi said their committee would prepare a strategy to reduce impact of the virus on tourism sector and hold discussion with the Nepal Rastra Bank, the Ministry of Tourism to lessen coronavirus impact. Hotelier Bachhuram Tiwari complained that panic triggered by coronavirus had made it hard for them to operate the hotels and pay their staffers.
Hotel Association Nepal central member Bharat Raj Parajuli said hotel occupancy rate was below 20 per cent in the Lake City. Another hotelier Govindraj Pahari said tourism sector should be declared sick industry. The government has to come out with an idea of paid-holiday targeting employees, said other hotel entrepreneurs.
Senior tourism entrepreneur Ganesh Bahadur Bhattarai said coronavirus scare had given them a serious headache. Bhattarai had organised an interaction a fortnight ago with participation of other tourism entrepreneurs. “I organised the programme to create an environment to tackle coronavirus and its impact on the sector unitedly,” Bhattarai said.
Former Chair of Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Anandraj Mulmi said political parties had failed to think about the problems facing entrepreneurs.
Nepal Tourism Board former member Tikaram Sapkota said coronavirus had appeared more dangerous than the 2015 earthquakes. He stressed the need to focus on domestic tourism. Tourists have stopped coming though entrepreneurs have given discount from 25 to 40 per cent on paragliding, said Nepal Air Sports Association Chair Krishna Bhandari. This time of the year, tourists should be trekking along Annapurna Circuit and Dhaulagiri area. But, the tourist arrival has dropped dramatically, according to Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal Western Regional Association Pokhara Chair Hari Bhujel. Tourists both by the air and land route have fallen sharply, said Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents Gandaki Chair Sanjaykant Sigdel.
Coronavirus outbreak has also adversely hit the under-construction Regional International Pokhara airport. Chinese workers, who went to mark their festival, have not returned. Those, who have returned, are in quarantine. Lack of workers has slowed down construction. In two phases, a total of 107 workers had returned from China. Of them 71 are still in quarantine. They are quarantined in their own rooms, said airport project Chief Binesh Munakarmi.
Gandaki Province has enough stock of medicine for three months, said Gandaki Chair Rudra Malla of Nepal Medicine Entrepreneurs’ Committee. “We have adequate stock so we have requested retailers to continue selling medicines,” Malla added.
Gandaki Province has formed a province-level task force to fight against coronavirus. A total of 60 beds have been arranged at Western Regional Hospital, Manipal Teaching Hospital, Charak Hospital and Gandaki Medical College for isolation of COVID-19 patients.
A version of this article appears in print on March 14, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.