Light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect not only on Nepal but also on the global economy, including the tourism industry. The global tourism industry at present is facing insurmountable losses as the coronavirus is a communicable disease and maintaining social distance is one of the major precautions to prevent infection. This literally means that there is no scope for people coming in close contact until the virus is fully contained and tourism basically entails people gathering in various destinations.

It is said that the tourism sector will take at least two years to recover. Amid this, stakeholders in Nepal have sensed that domestic tourism is the only way out to revive their business.

Those involved in the tourism business have also been requesting the government to bring plans and policies to promote domestic tourism for the survival of the industry.

Meanwhile, the government has also taken several initiatives to promote domestic tourism. Celebrating the 41st World Tourism Day on Sunday, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai also mentioned that domestic tourism is the only way out in current scenario.

In recent years, Nepalis have started developing a trend of travelling to various new places.

Trekking, hiking and short trips have now become popular in the country. As a result, stakeholders’ perception towards domestic tourism is changing, said Achyut Guragain, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents.

“We committed a grave mistake in the past by not prioritising domestic tourism,” he said. “Previously, we were so busy thinking about ways to earn foreign currency we didn’t bother about promoting tourism among our people. It is only after the impact of COVID-19 that our eyes opened up to the immense potential that domestic tourism has,” added Guragain.

Meanwhile, Binayak Shah, first vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), said that domestic tourism has been steadily flourishing in the last four to five years. “Nepalis have developed the trend to travel and the good news is that a large number are waiting to travel now,” he said. “We are getting inquiries from domestic tourists for tours during the festive season.”

Inquiries for Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini are high compared to other destinations.

Meanwhile, beyond the regular destinations domestic tourists are also exploring new destinations. “Considering the increasing travel trend among Nepalis, we are pretty sure that domestic tourism will help us survive,” Shah opined.

Changing perception

In recent years, the perception that tourism stakeholders had regarding domestic tourists is changing. “Earlier, locals were not considered tourists and to this day there are some regions which do not value domestic tourists. However, we must say that in recent years the way that domestic tourists are being treated is changing for the better,” said Sharki Sherpa, general secretary of Trekking Guide Association of Nepal.

Most of the hoteliers along the trekking routes in rural areas do not like to accommodate domestic tourists, he revealed, adding that in the Everest region domestic tourists still do not get the type of services that foreigners get. “The hoteliers there presume that domestic tourists spend less money and do not have the manners to stay in hotels,” Sherpa said.

Sharing his travel experience, Vivek Maharjan from Kathmandu who is a professional wedding photographer, said that he has witnessed a change in the behaviour of hoteliers.

“I remember during a trek in the Mustang area about sixyears back we were not given any rooms because we are Nepalis,” he said, adding that his group of six friends had to sleep in the kitchen of a hotel.

“But last year when we went there for a wedding photo shoot we saw that the hoteliers there were more respectful towards domestic tourists,” said Maharjan. “In fact, we even got a discount.”

Sherpa said that usually after downing a few drinks Nepalis have the habit of making a ruckus and at times even picking a fight. “This is why hoteliers are a bit apprehensive to give rooms to domestic tourists,” he says. However, that perception is gradually changing and hoteliers have realised that Nepalis spend more money than the foreigners, he added.

According to Sherpa, on an average domestic tourists spend Rs 5,000 per person per night while foreign tourists spend Rs 2,000 per person per night. “Recent incidents in the industry have taught everybody that we have to welcome both domestic and foreign tourists equally,” he added.

All kinds of domestic tourists

Nepal is especially famous for its religious and adventure tourism in the international market. HAN First Vice-President Shah said that there are all types of domestic tourists in Nepal.

“Most family trips are related with religion whereby the people visit different religious sites with family members.

But we also have adventurous domestic tourists,” he said.

“The young generation is more interested in trekking these days.”

There is also another segment of domestic tourists who like to travel to destinations that are close to their homes for relaxation, he says.

He further explained that if the government introduces a policy of giving two days of leave in a week to civil servants then it will help boost domestic tourism.

Travel packages

Considering the importance of domestic tourism, the private sector and government are jointly preparing different travel packages for domestic tourists.

According to Shah, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Department of Tourism and Nepal Tourism Board in cooperation with various tourism associations are preparing travel packages that include different types of short and long trips for domestic tourists.

Besides, recently domestic airline companies like Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air have also introduced travel packages especially for domestic tourists.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on September 29, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.