Trekking in Nepal is booming, but faces competition from a spreading road network and underpricing
Despite a lingering monsoon that has overstayed its welcome, the autumn tourist season is off to a flying start. September-November is a peak trekking season, seeing up to 40 per cent of annual arrivals. Autumn offers pleasant weather, clear skies and spectacular mountain views, ideal for trekking. An added attraction is that autumn also coincides with the festival season.
“We are expecting a big boom in trekking this season,” says Ramesh Dhamala of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN). The bookings look robust, and there has been an unprecedented spurt in the number of Chinese trekkers. The increase in the number of flights to Nepal this year has also meant that last year’s seat bottleneck is not as acute.
TAAN issued more than 90,000 permits for trekkers in the past year, which was a 10 per cent increase from the year before. It expects a further increase from the autumn numbers this year.
Despite growth, however, the trekking industry still has not benefited from the full potential for job creation and income generation at the local level. Hikers are still limited mainly to Annapurna, Langtang and Everest regions with other areas still only getting a trickle of trekkers.
The trails in these regions are well maintained by locals because they are aware that it is related to their business, says Raj Tamang, of Responsible Adventures, an ecological trekking company. “But locals and the authorities have been lax about maintenance of trekking routes in other, less popular regions,” Tamang says.
The potential for new trek routes in Nepal is unlimited, but many areas that would benefit most from trekking lack proper trails, quality lodges and other facilities. Most trekkers opt for the mainstream routes because they are well-established and there is a good support in case weather turns bad. Most other routes need expedition style camping and support, and turn out to be more expensive.
Nevertheless, in 2015 TAAN is trying to open up new trails along the Manaslu Circuit, Ganesh Himal, Rara, and alternative routes around the Annapurnas. This trend is gathering momentum because of the spread of roads and the demand from trekkers for trails that are away from pollution and honking. Construction of new roads have also triggered landslides, affecting many main trekking trails for example in the Chame area of Manang, the Kali Gandaki, Langtang and Manaslu.
“The biggest challenge now is to diversify established routes which overlap with motorable roads,” says Dhamala.
The other perennial problem with trekking in Nepal has been price undercutting by agencies providing shoddy services which not only gives hiking in Nepal a bad image, but also reduces the income for porters and tea houses along the way. Trekking guides with limited experience are poaching customers from each other and compromise on services to offer the lowest price.
Tamang maintains that trekking in Nepal is underpriced, and unhealthy competition ultimately hurts the tourism economy. “The industry is too focused on wooing tourists with low prices and too indifferent towards improving their service,” says Tamang, “We need to attract quality eco-tourism rather than mass tourism.”
TAAN has lately started monitoring illegal and inexperienced travel agencies by implementing a system of proper registration with the Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) and issuing trekking permits. It coordinates with police checkpoints and park officers also ensure legitimate and safe trekking.
Off-beat trekking, Kunda Dixit
Carrying Nepal on their backs, Ben Ayers
The Great Himalayan Trail, Kunda Dixit
Sharing the load, Salil Subedi