Ashes to ashes

Nepal’s hotel industry has incurred a heavy loss running into millions of rupees in the past

couple of days. The foreign tourists cancelling 95 per cent of their overall hotel bookings outside the Kathmandu Valley and a similar percentage of group bookings in the Valley after the Maoists’ announcement of a week-long bandh is indeed cause for serious concern as it has dealt a grievous blow to the already ailing tourism industry. Prior to the bandh announcement, the hotels all over the country had enjoyed a 40 per cent occupancy rate. According to Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), the bandh has caused a loss of over Rs. 40 million per day to the hotel industry only, leave alone the other allied sectors like travel and trekking agencies, restaurants, banks, money exchange counters, cottage and handicrafts industry, just to name a few. Thamel, a major tourist hub, saw a whopping 99 per cent cancellations. Though the arrival of tourists in January had shot up significantly, the bandh proved to be a terrible blow to the economy, which, economists say, already present a gloomy picture.

The frequent bandhs and curfews have projected a negative image of Nepal in the world market. As tourism plays a vital role in Nepal’s economy and is a source of income to thousands of people, urgent steps to improve the political climate and restore peace must be taken with all seriousness before it is indeed too late. The Maoist chief Prachanda’s recent appeal to the government to announce a ceasefire for holding dialogue for a political solution must be taken as a window of opportunity. There is no other viable option left for the government than to seize the opportunity and invite all the parties, including the Maoists, for a dialogue. The policy-makers must realise the dangers of aggravating the conflict through military means. The key to resolving Nepal’s myriad problems, including those in the tourism sector, lies in respecting the people’s ardent desire for peace.