As the autumn tourism season begins, tourism professionals demand that the government provide on-arrival visa to fully vaccinated tourists and waive quarantine requirements for such visitors in order to revive the economy.

Stakeholders have also asked the government to open border with India and promptly implement free one-month visa provision for tourists as announced by the government.

President of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators Ashok Pokharel said the government imposed curbs on tourism sector overnight, but when time came for relaxing prohibitions, bureaucrats didn't muster courage to reopen the tourism sector, particularly to provide on-arrival visa to fully vaccinated people and those carrying PCR-negative reports.

"If the government takes a positive decision now, it will help bring adequate number of tourists around March when the next tourism season begins," he added.

Chief Executive Officer of Nepal Tourism Board Dhananjay Regmi said frontline workers in hotels and tourism institutions, as well as public vehicle drivers and operators, were fully vaccinated in Nepal's major tourism destinations, including the Everest region, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Manang, Mustang, and Langtang.

"Nepal is safer than India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan in South Asia with low COVID infection rate and high recovery rate. The government should not put off lifting restrictions on tourists," he added.

Regmi said the government should provide on-arrival visa to tourists as Nepal did not have diplomatic missions in all the countries. "If we have to revive our economy, we must provide on-arrival visa to fully vaccinated people and those carrying PCR-negative report. In order to revive industries in the Tarai, the government should allow Indian tourists to visit Nepal without any hassle," he said.

He added that Indian tour operators had been requesting them for the past four months to lift restrictions on tourists. "A lot of Indian tourists want to visit Nepal but they cannot come due to restrictions. Indian tour operators also sell Nepal packages to tourists from Gulf countries and could bring a sizeable number from Gulf countries as well," Regmi added.

The country will generate a lot of income from tourism sector if the current tourism-related restrictions are lifted, he added.

As Nepal has still been listed in the 'red zone' of the international travel advisory, the tourism professionals have demanded that the government effectively advocate removal of the country from the list and widely disseminate the information that all tourism sector workers in the country have been fully vaccinated and visitors to the country will be allowed to travel freely.

Spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Raj Kumar Chhetri said all the health protocols recommended by ICAO were being followed at airports in Nepal.

He said the USA was also allowing fully-vaccinated people and people with PCR-negative report to travel freely. "Nepal should also give on-arrival visa to fully-vaccinated people," he added. He said by relaxing the rules the number of tourists would increase.

Director General of Department of Immigration Narayan Prasad Bhattarai said the government was subjecting fully-vaccinated tourists to stay in three-day home quarantine. However, tourists who have not received shots against COV- ID-19, but have PCR-negative report are required to stay in hotel quarantine for 10 days.

Even fully-vaccinated people need to carry PCR-negative reports.

The tourism professionals have also demanded that instead of the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre, the chief district officers be given the authority to ensure that necessary health safety protocols were being followed in their respective districts.

Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil THT Aviation Yadav Prasad Koirala said his ministry had sent a proposal to the Cabinet urging it to provide fully-vaccinated tourists and people with PCR-negative reports on-arrival visa, as the mountaineering season was around the corner. "We cannot emulate the USA or China who can afford to send people to quarantine. If we have to revive the tourism sector and the national economy, we must relax rules and allow fully vaccinated tourists and people with PCR-negative reports to freely move around the country," Koirala said.

Entrepreneurs' demands

• Fully-vaccinated tourists or those carrying PCR-negative report obtained in the past 96 hours should be exempted from quarantine

• Issuance of on-arrival visa should be resumed

• A travel advisory should be issued declaring Nepal a country safe for travellers

A version of this article appears in the print on September 18 2021, of The Himalayan Times.