It could take some years before tourist arrivals in Nepal reach pre-pandemic numbers, although people have been travelling in droves in Europe and America by throwing caution to the wind. Even if COVID-19 were to come under control anytime soon, tourists might be wary about travelling to this part of the world. So instead of lamenting about the misery that has befallen this country, Nepal's tourism entrepreneurs would do well to use this slack period to explore ways to put the country's tourism back on its feet sooner than later. And this means looking for new tourism schemes or at a different kind of visitor who has eluded our attention until now. Why not, for instance, tap accessible tourism to target persons with disabilities for a change? There are a billion people living with disabilities around the world, which make them a valuable untapped market.
Tourists with disabilities might be thrilled to go on a trek to the hinterlands or bungee jumping or on a safari
Currently about 2,000 tourists with disabilities are said to visit Nepal annually, according to the National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal. And it thinks the numbers could go up to 10,000 if facilities and conditions become more conducive for disabled people.
While the potential for accessible tourism is there, a survey report has revealed that hotels in Nepal have not invested in the required infrastructure to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities. The report – Open to All: A Survey on Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in Nepal's hotels –covered 90 star hotels in the major cities.
Not much thought has been given to accessible tourism in the country largely because of the extra costs that go into building ramps, buying wheelchairs and adding services like putting up signs for the visually-impaired or braille signage on door plaques and room directories. Also, the tourist numbers are too few to make it profitable for the hotels to invest in added infrastructure for tourists with disabilities.
But then, tourists comprising different segments or markets have always started with a trickle. The first Chinese tourists to visit this country about 15 years ago numbered less than 1,000, only to take up the top slot among foreign tourist arrivals until the pandemic devastated Nepal's tourism industry in 2020. Accessible tourism is also inclusive tourism, where everyone "regardless of physical limitations, disabilities or age" can be a part of the tourism experience.
Over the decades, disability has not barred tourists and adventurers from experiencing Nepal's mountains. From amputees to climbers who were blind, they have scaled the world's tallest peak, Everest.
If they can climb peaks, they might as well be equally thrilled to go on a trek to Nepal's hinterlands or go bungee jumping or on a safari in Chitwan National Park. But before those with disabilities can come here in large numbers, there must be plenty of publicity abroad, while the hotels should start adding or improving facilities meant for them or training some of their staff on sign language.
Hotels apart, if the government is really serious about accessible tourism, then cities and villages will also need to come up with accessible infrastructure and services, which would also benefit Nepalis living with disabilities.
Piles of garbage
Management of garbage produced in the Kathmandu Valley has always been a major concern for all its municipalities and the Ministry of Urban Development. The problem has further aggravated after the Sisdol landfill site in Nuwakot, which was initially planned only for two years in 2005, filled up.
The Urban Development Ministry has chosen Bancharedanda as the next landfill site. But its first cell has yet to be fully developed for dumping the city's refuse on a daily basis.
The ministry also has to build a makeshift bridge to pass through the Sisdol landfill site, which has already received a mountain of garbage. Therefore, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has asked the city residents not to keep garbage outside their residences for 11 more days. As the refuse dumpers cannot move beyond the Sisdol landfill site, the garbage collected from all the residences of the Valley has been dumped along road sides or river banks, belching out an unbearable stench into the air. We cannot expect our cities to be neat, clean and green unless we find a lasting solution to the garbage problem.
The ministry should be blamed for the inordinate delay in developing Bancharedanda as s suitable landfill site.
A version of this article appears in the print on August 27 2021, of The Himalayan Times.