KATHMANDU: Nepal’s tourism sector has been staring at its deathbed, following the nationwide lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the start of 2020, the year in which Nepal had anticipated to receive over two million foreign tourists, the global pandemic has flung the country’s tourism sector into chaos, bringing all the tourism activities to a grinding halt.
The coronavirus crisis has not only led to the cancellation of the much-touted Visit Nepal Year 2020 campaign but it has also injected an unprecedented amount of uncertainty into the country’s tourism-based economy, as the business fraternity doesn’t know whether the tourism activities will resume this year.
“We don’t know how to survive if the tourism businesses don’t resume anytime soon,” the tourism entrepreneurs said.
The Hotel Association of Nepal has already decided to close all tourist standard hotels across the country till mid-November, by paying 12.5 per cent of staff’s basic monthly salary. The decision has resulted in closure of nearly 1,300 star and tourist standard hotels, with bed capacity of over 41,000 per day, across the country.
According to HAN, the country’s hotel sector is losing nearly Rs 1.80 billion monthly after the coronavirus crisis brought the business to a sudden halt.
“We have already had no business at all for almost two months. Now, we are compelled to shut all hotels till mid-November as there was no business due to halted tourist mobility to combat the spread of coronavirus,” Shreejana Rana, president of HAN, said.
From the Kathmandu’s busiest tourist hub Thamel to the scenic lake city of Pokhara, from one of the popular trail circuits in Annapurna to the Mount Everest region, or from Pashupatinath to Lumbini, no one knows whether the world visitors will return this year. Also, the stakeholders from Chitwan’s national park area to Bardiya’s wildlife zone don’t know how to survive if they don’t receive visitors.
“The crisis is deepening and set to get even worse,” Santa Bir Lama, President of Nepal Mountaineering Association, said. The COVID-19 crisis has severely impacted the country’s travel, trekking and mountaineering sectors. More than 3,500 travel and 2,600 trekking agencies across the country have already closed their operation due to the nationwide lockdown, according to Lama.
Nepal is renowned for adventure tourism due to its prominent peaks while mountaineering is one of the major components of the tourism industry. The spring season (March-May) is the time when maximum mountaineering activities take place in the country. “But, all adventure activities have been suspended this time.”
There are thousands of people who depend on the money spent by foreign tourists in Nepal. Especially, the closure of the mountains including Mt Everest and tour and trekking activities has made nearly half a million people jobless in the mountaineering community. It has created a situation in which the country will be losing the revenue equivalent to nearly Rs 600 million annually from mountaineering, according to Lama.
“It seems that there will be no trekking and mountaineering activities in the upcoming autumn or winter season and thousands of people, who depend on tourism activities and products, will be unable to make their daily ends meet,” Lama further said.
Once the situation becomes normal, the government should immediately reutilise the budget allocated for VNY 2020 and Nepal Tourism Board to boost up domestic tourism in the country, according to operators. “Besides, the government should also mobilise all trekking and mountaineering workforce to clean up mountains and renovate the trekking and hiking trails across the country,” Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, Managing Director at Seven Summit Treks, said.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism sector pumped around 240 billion rupees into the Nepal’s economy and supported over 1 million jobs. The central bank data also reveals that total foreign currency exchange (less return) for 2018 stood at around US$ 617,263 thousand.
Tourism, which accounts for nearly eight percent of Nepal’s GDP, is vital to national economies. The WTTC report also stated that travel and tourism investment in Nepal last year was 16.5 billion rupees – three percent of the total investment.
In 2019, Nepal witnessed a total inflow of more than 1.17 million foreign tourists via air and land routes while the average length of stay of a tourist in Nepal was recorded at 13 days with per day expenditure at US$ 44.
According to the World Tourism Organisation – UNWTO, the world will see a decline in international tourism receipts between USD 300 to 450 billion in 2020, almost one third of USD 1.5 trillion generated in 2019, with 96 percent of worldwide destinations having travel restrictions.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation estimates that there will be an overall reduction of international passengers ranging from 44 percent to 80 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. If there is no immediate relief package, Nepali airlines could also be bankrupt anytime soon because of the COVID-19 crisis, an airlines operator reacted.
The government should immediately bring the stimulus package to save Nepal’s tourism industry, NMA President Lama demanded, adding that they have been lobbying with the government for relief and bailout packages of Rs 20 billion for the tourism industry. “However, this crisis is going to end sooner or later and all stakeholders also need to put more effort to bring tourists into Nepal than before.”
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