EDITORIAL: Don’t expect much

Tourism stakeholders must also think of innovate ways to keep their businesses afloat and not be too demanding of the government

Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel gave assurances to revive the tourism industry at a meeting held with representatives of the tourism industry at the Ministry of Finance on Tuesday. He said emphasis would be laid on effective implementation of relief, concession and incentive programmes brought by the government. The tourism stakeholders have a long list of demands, but with the government facing similar demands from other sectors of the economy, it can only do so much. Among the demands of the tourism stakeholders include extending the repayment period of loans to three years from the maximum of two years as stated in the business continuity loan disbursement procedure and to five years from the maximum repayment period of four years mentioned in the refinancing provision. They also want exemption of the electricity demand charge and issuance of loans of upto 100 per cent of the value of the collateral that they had deposited for an existing loan.

True, the tourism industry has been hit hard, bringing all related sectors under it, such as the hotel industry, trekking, travel and tours, rafting and mountaineering to a standstill. As a result, the tourism industry, once the largest employment generator in the country, has had to shed most of its workforce, some permanently. In the absence of visitors, many hotels have shut down, and iconic hotels, such as the decades-old Annapurna, decided to close down for good since the New Year.

Many of the demands put up by the tourism stakeholders are, thus, genuine and deserve the government’s fullest attention.

It recently came to light that the facilities being made available by the government under its refinancing scheme have been slow to come, with the benefit going largely to those with connections.

However, given the financial constraints that the government is in, with its priority on containing the coronavirus and procuring vaccines, the tourism stakeholders must also think of innovate ways to keep their businesses afloat and not be too demanding of the government.

For instance, in the aviation sector, Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines introduced incentive packages in their mountain flights, which saw their flight numbers more than double. Some hotels thought of converting into quarantine and isolation centres, and made good business. Trekking and other adventure sports activities could target the domestic tourists, who today are better spenders than the budget foreign travelers.

Apart from tours to prominent cities and hill towns, jungle safaris, bungee jumping and zipline activity are popular among Nepali youths. There could be many more domestic travellers travelling if concessions are provided on the packages. Of course, the coronavirus is still a threat, and any activity will need to come with a lot of health precautions, which entail added expenses. Despite the optimism sounded by the finance minister that better days are on the horizon for the tourism industry, it would be wise to take his statement with a bit of salt. It will be some time before the vaccines arrive here, and even then no one knows if they will be the panacea for the coronavirus.

And even when we are all prepared, the foreign visitor must be ready to take the risk to fly here.

Illegal crusher plants

Most of the crusher industries across the country are operating their businesses without adhering to the rules and regulations introduced by the government.

They are the major source of river pollution and degradation of the local environment. The government rules have it that they cannot be operated close to human settlements, rivers, forests and farmland.

The river products such as sand, boulders and crushed stones are used heavily in the construction sector. But they are causing huge environmental problems in the rivers and forest areas. Over exploitation of the river products from the rivers and the Chure range have resulted in flash floods and landslides during the monsoon.

A case in point is Kailali district. Most of the crusher industries have not met the criteria set by the government.

As per the rules, a crusher plant should be set up 500 metres away from the highway, bridges, rivers and lakes and 1,500 metres away from educational institutions, hospitals, security posts and forests.

They should be set up only after carrying out an environmental impact assessment report to be approved by the government authority. The local levels should be given more legal teeth to take punitive action against the rule-breaking crusher plants.