Nepal has nose-dived 17 notches down in the top 10 world tourist and travel destinations list compiled by iExp-lore.com, a leading international tourism company. By claiming a berth at the tenth place last year, Nepal had basked in the limelight. There is no making bones of the fact that Nepal is tiding over a difficult time as a result of the Maoist insurgency. Thanks to the on-going conflict, several sectors including tourism, business, education, hotel, among others, are made to bear the brunt. Even though the Nepal Tourism Board is upbeat in its assessment of the tourism scenario, the facts speak out for themselves. The rebels openly charge a levy on anyone wishing to tour their strongholds. Then there are the proxy Maoists who also do the same thing. It does not matter to a traveller why they should pay a surcharge, or to whom they should hand over the cash. It only matters that visitors be spared such inconveniences. Sadly this has not been the case. And it has impacted on the list, and factors like this might have bogged down the rankings.

Assessment of tourist climes depends not only on the geography or, say, breathtaking scenery, as most Nepalis like to believe. It depends on other variables that are closely interlinked. If security of the visitors is important, recreational facilities, hotel services, hospitality, travel and medical facilities are just a few among major determinants before visitors feel fine about incorporating a destination in their itinerary. One such factor that did more harm was the banner headlines after Nepal’s human rights record started coming under the scanner of the rights watchdogs, including the Amnesty International (AI) and the United Nations. For example, AI has recently written an open letter to the Maoist leader Prachanda expressing concern over the rising incidence of killing of civilians and mass abduction of children. Genuine as the concern is, the need for the rebels to respect human rights need not be overemphasised. Such worries, despite rebel assurances that they will not target the tourists, heavily weigh in assessing the worthiness of Nepal as a tourist destination. At this stage, there is very little Nepal can do to reassure the travellers as political stability supersedes other variables.

It will be wrong to interpret mere figures such as tourist arrivals and departures as the ultimate yardstick in assessing the health of the industry. A large number of tourists might have turned up in Pokhara Mahotsav or even back packers in droves. They might have contributed to a certain extent but quality tourism is what really counts. But nothing else reassures visitors’ confidence than a peaceful political climate. Therein lies the answer to regaining the lost ground in tourism tabulation.