EDITORIAL: Rescue tourism

Among other sectors, the tourism sector has also suffered much from the major earthquake of April 25 and many aftershocks. At present there is very little tourism activity in Nepal as many of the tourists left after the quakes and others cancelled their bookings. As a result, the hospitality industry has been adversely affected with many hotels almost devoid of guests even in places where the tremors did little damage. The loss from the natural calamity has cost the country to the tune of Rs. 44 billion. This, however, is only a preliminary estimate and the loss could be much higher. Since the country banks heavily on tourism for earnings, the present situation is indeed very tragic. Many of the tourism structures were damaged. According to the estimates, the private sector have incurred a loss of around Rs. 23.22 billion and the rest of the damage was done to public properties.

Massive publicity campaigns are also necessary to remove the negative image that has been created about safety of visiting Nepal

The hotel industry bore the most loss with Rs. 16 billion of its assets damaged. The home stay facilities provided to trekkers were also badly hit losing around Rs. 1.72 billion. Meanwhile, also damaged were heritage sites which were major tourist attractions consisting of temples, shrines and pagodas to the tune of around Rs. 19.36 billion. An estimated loss of Rs. 7.36 billion to archeological sites and property over a hundred years old occurred while the damage to other property amounted to Rs. 12 billion. The mountaineering sector, very popular with climbers, suffered a loss of Rs. one billion. This happened after the infrastructure built in the Khumbu of the Everest region was damaged or destroyed. The tour businesses lost as much as Rs. two billion and the trekking enterprise Rs. 3.50 billion.

However, the other popular tourist destinations such as the Annapurna Circuit, Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini have remained intact. Attractive discounts are being offered to foreign and domestic tourists as well as in hotels in Pokhara that are considered safe. The need is to revive the tourist trade by rebuilding the necessary infrastructure. An amount of Rs. 426 million is needed to restore the trekking sites alone. The prospects for tourism in sectors like mountaineering, trekking and tour businesses are very bright. Nepal happens to be one of the most popular destinations. There is no doubt that the resilient Nepali people will overcome the natural disasters, and we will be able to recover if we put our collective efforts to it. So it is high time that all the Nepalis worked in tandem for this to materialize. Meanwhile, we should carry out the relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation works as soon as we can as this is also important to boost the confidence of foreigners in Nepal. Special packages are needed to give the devastated tourism sector a shot in the arm, and the government should work through diplomatic and other channels to reassure foreigners about Nepal being safe destinations for travel and tourism. Massive publicity campaigns are also necessary to remove the negative image that has been created about safety of visiting Nepal.

The fee row

The row over school fees has come back again, with the additional aspect of whether to charge one month’s fee during which the schools remained closed after the earthquake of April 25 (Baisakh 12). The student unions have been pressing for this in particular, but the school owners’ associations do not seem willing to do so. Their argument is that anyway, they had to pay the salaries of the staff and teachers and meet other fixed expenses during that period.

But the private schools are purely business enterprises. The private hospitals and hotels, for example, cannot charge their patients and customers for the period not served. They too have their own fixed costs to meet. Why should schools be special then? In this time of national calamity, the schools should behave somewhat differently than in the past. The students have also demanded with a three days’ ultimatum that the owners should respect the agreement to withdraw the fee hiked for this academic session. By not charging the fee for one month, the schools would not go bust either. A compromise formula could be that those schools in rented buildings charge only half month’s fee and those with their own buildings a full month’s fee.