The country's tattered tourism industry will not return even to breakeven point unless foreigners start coming here in large numbers

Nepal's tourism is one of the industries particularly hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the entire country since February last year.

Before the government imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 24 last year to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the tourism and hospitality sector had already suffered a setback due to the global lockdown. The seven-month-long lockdown made the situation all the more worse as all domestic and international flights were suspended until further notice. According to data provided by Nepal Rastra Bank, 98 per cent of the country's tourism industry was shut down for seven months till September-end.

During this time, big hotels in the Kathmandu Valley and outside had to shut down their business, lay-off their staff or drastically slash their salaries.

Even the government's bailout plan through the refinancing package at lowered interest rate for a period of one year could not help revive their business.

Nepal's tourism and hospitality business depends heavily on the arrival of foreign tourists and movement of people within the country. In the absence of these two, the tourism sector is sure to suffer to a point of no return.

However, the situation seems to be gradually returning to normalcy with the government deciding to relax the rules for foreigners and NRNs, although it is far from satisfactory. Following the resumption of international flights from August 17, tourist arrival is picking up pace. According to the Department of Immigration, the highest number of tourists – 8,874 – arrived in the country in the month of January. The number of tourists arriving in the country recorded less than 2,000 from the months of October to December last year. Indian nationals –who make up the largest number – started visiting the country after Nepal and India decided to resume regular flights last month. Chinese accounted for the second largest number of tourists visiting Nepal in January.

Despite the fact that foreign tourists have started coming to Nepal, the numbers are way low, which means too many service providers will be chasing too few tourists. This will create an unhealthy competition among the tourism entrepreneurs just as it did during the Maoist insurgency. The country's already-tattered tourism industry will not return even to breakeven point unless tourists from the European Union, USA, Japan and other high-income countries start coming to Nepal in large numbers for trekking and mountaineering and choose to stay here for a longer period of time. The government's recent move to inoculate frontline health workers and other needy people should send a positive message to foreigners that Nepal will soon be a safe destination to visit. However, the unfolding political uncertainty following the dissolution of the House of Representatives on December 20 and subsequent protest rallies, leading even to Nepal bandhs, will only further ruin the shaky industry. The political parties, therefore, are advised to exercise their political rights with caution so that it does not affect the country's economic activities that are slowly returning to normalcy after a hiatus of almost one year.

Take strong action

It has shown time and again that Nepal's forests suffer massive destruction every time there is political instability in the country. Large swathes of forests were gone overnight during the political changes that took place in the country at different periods and during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

With the huge demand for construction materials both in Nepal and India, it is only natural for timber smugglers to try and take undue advantage of the current fluid political situation to engage in wanton destruction of Nepal's forests. So it would be prudent not to take the Tuesday assault on the forest guards by timber smugglers in Karaiyamai Rural Municipality in Bara lightly, where around 45 timber smugglers are said to have attacked the patrol team with domestic weapons.

With the country heavily focussed on the political events taking place in Kathmandu, one can only expect a spurt in such illegal activities in the near future.

If need be, the patrolling units must be reinforced with more men in Bara and elsewhere to deter any attacks in the future. The culprits must be brought to book at the earliest and not let off the hook easily under pressure from those in power.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 5, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.