COVID-19 pandemic sounds the death knell for Nepal's tourism sector

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.

“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.”