Nepal opens for tourism, autumn climbing activities

KATHMANDU:  With the government announcing to resume all international and domestic flights from August 17, the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation today said that it would let all tourism related activities including mountain climbing in the autumn season commence.

With the latest announcement, the tourism fraternity believes that the industry which incurred a loss of over 10 billion rupees a month during the COVID-induced nationwide lockdown would gradually return to a new normal.

“The ministry plans to resume all tourism related activities by following health and safety protocols from August 17,” ministry’s secretary Kedar Bahadur Adhikari said, adding that safety protocols are being finalised by holding consultations with stakeholders concerned.

 

Talking to THT Online, international expedition operator Lukas Furtenbach, however, pointed out two problems.

He said, firstly, many important source markets including the USA, Europe, South America, Russia, Middle East, some Asian countries are in the middle of the pandemic. "People there are losing their jobs, businesses are going bankrupt, they have concerns about elder family members, and they are afraid of what might happen while they are on expedition." Furtenbach added that people are also concerned about whether there will there be a second wave of infection or new quarantine requirements, which may prevent them from travelling home after the expedition.

"So what I am experiencing with my clients is that they are too concerned and prefer to wait for next year when the worst is over, a vaccine or treatment probably available, and their financial situation clearer. For sure there will be a few people willing to take these risks and we might see some small expeditions in autumn. This too depends on whether or not airline companies fly to Nepal; they will only fly if they sell enough tickets. And that brings me to my other concern."

He pointed out the second hurdle. "What if one person in the expedition team is COVID-19 positive? A regular basecamp setup would be ideal for the virus to spread in the whole team very quickly. Cold temperatures help to spread the virus and the body and immune system are already weakened by the hypoxic environment, exhaustion and cold. I don’t want to contract COVID-19 infection with high fever and a pneumonia when I am high up on the mountain."

Furtenbach concludes that all in all he is not very positive for the autumn season. "As an operator, I see too much risk for my clients and my staff. I prefer to work on medical safety and hygiene protocols and develop a new safe basecamp setup for next spring season so that we can be back on the mountains with our clients but with a plan, a strategy and an idea about how to handle all this. I would not want to take the trial and error method as would be the case now. Because for now, we don’t know enough about this virus."