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Tourism is down, but not out

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
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To revive tourism, let’s invite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi back to Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath

OM ASTHA RAI

Besides the death and destruction, last month’s earthquake has dealt the most devastating blow to Nepal’s tourism industry. Hotels are damaged, trekking routes have been wiped out, Kathmandu’s World Heritage sites lie in ruins.

In the first weeks after the disaster, flights out of Nepal were full of tourists, then came the cancellations of booking, not just for May but for the rest of the year. Many hotels in Thamel have zero occupancy, although some of the bigger hotels have relief workers, aid agency representatives and crew of rescue flights.

Despite this, tourism entrepreneurs, experts and officials believe that the impact of the Gorkha Earthquake will not be long-term, and such is the draw of Nepal, its mountains and people that tourists will start coming back from the autumn season. In fact, this newspaper has started a social media campaign #VisitNepalAutumn2015, advising those who want to help Nepal to come here, go on long treks, use homestays and help create jobs.

After the earthquake, several countries warned their citizens not to visit the country except if they were involved in rescue and relief. Today, Thamel wears a deserted look, the Everest Trail and other trekking routes are abandoned, and even Pokhara where there wasn’t much damage is largely empty.

Hotel owners, trekking companies and travel agents say tourism may actually start picking up even during the monsoon, since that is the ideal time to visit Manang, Mustang and Dolpo which are in the Himalayan rainshadow. Tibet-bound transit tourists would also be making stopovers, as in previous years.

“Nepal has a niche adventure tourism market and that category of visitors will not be deterred for long,” says Yogendra Shakya of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN). “We just need to spread the word that our infrastructure is intact and ready before the autumn season.”

But he admits that there will still be residual hesitancy about visiting Nepal.  “No matter how well we promote Nepal’s tourism and say all is well here, they will still have their doubts,” he says, stressing the need for a creative promotion strategy.

Narendra Modi

Photo: Bikram Rai

“For example, this would be the time for our prime minister to invite Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi to visit Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath where he could not go last time,” Shakya says. “It would send a strong message to Indian pilgrim tourists and the world that Nepal is open for business.”

The international community has gone out of its way to help Nepal, and tourism entrepreneurs say that could be Nepal’s strongest selling point. We just need to convert that goodwill into a willingness to visit.

The government can actively promote trekking areas of the country not affected by the earthquake, pilgrimages, and conference tourism to get the industry back on its feet.

“Tourists should not be worried about Nepal, in a few months the hotels and infrastructure will all be restored,” says former HAN president, Shyam Lal Kakshapati. In fact, 90 per cent of the hotels are not damaged, and many that are can be repaired and retrofitted.

A government committee has inspected 15 hotel buildings, and only one of the wings of the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel has a red sticker. All five-star hotels in the capital have got safe green stickers.

Amar Shakya, a member of the committee, says inspection was halted after the 12 May aftershock and will resume. “Our preliminary inspection shows most hotel buildings have not suffered structural damage,” he says.

The government has already formed a Tourism Recovery Committee in partnership with HAN and Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) to repair damaged trekking routes, heritage sites and promote safe tourism destinations.

The earthquake was just the latest in a series of disasters to hit Nepal. Last year’s Everest avalanche killed 16 climbers, and the Annapurna blizzard in October left 80 people dead including foreign trekkers. Despite this, a record number of tourists visited Nepal in 2014, boosted by an influx of visitors from China and India.

Tourism has a capacity to heal itself, the only question is how will the Nepal tourism Board and the government deal with the necessary international promotion to bring visitors back in 2015 and beyond.

Read also:

Monumental loss Stéphane Huët 

Langtang lament

Extreme Everest Bhrikuti Rai and Matt Miller   

After the storm Kunda Dixit  

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12 Responses to “Tourism is down, but not out”

  1. David Seddon on Says:

    Janakpur needs to clean up more to attract tourists – admirable self help activity but local govt nowhere

  2. Udip Parajuli on Says:

    that’s a brilliant idea

  3. Ananda Raj Devkota on Says:

    Better to invite Dalai Lama to Lumbini and Swyambhunath after restoration.

  4. xibu on Says:

    Why just Modi? Mr. Xi from north could do even better :-)

  5. Adrian Columb on Says:

    Several days ago a friend who lives in Kathmandu wrote me that “today is 21 days of earthquake and its still coming it hasnt stopped yet. 3 days ago 7.4 rector came. All children are afraid and sleeping outside in a field under sky no tents. only food left for 3 or 4 days.” How would that feel if it were you? Please give generously to help save lives at https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/nepal-tents-sleeping-bags-to-kathmandu-urgently/x/9482272

  6. namah on Says:

    in our collective disgust of Indian Media we ended up blaming the Indian govt as well during relief operations. i think some self-correction is necessary on this front. there is a vast sea of divergence between Indians and their media. even Indians hate their media.

    your idea of getting Modi to come on a confidence building tourism oriented trip is a winner!

  7. Damien Francois on Says:

    Another major danger to tourism is the expedition operators’ (locals and foreigners) greed, which is killing the cow that makes the whole industry possible – us, clients. By cancelling expeditions and denying any refund – on the count of “costs” -, both in 2014 and 2015, to to clients, BUT keeping their profit-margin, they lack all credibility. Climbers are fed up at being pressed like lemons. And this has nothing to do with the dramas that hit a community or, like this time, the whole country. Expedition outfitters, operating on a lawless territory are milking the cow until there is no more left – pretending then to act out of spiritual and moral motives. It’s disgusting. What the Nepalese is doing to the people of Nepal, the expedition operators are doing to us, clients. And no, we are not all bored “rich dudes” looking for kicks exploiting the workers. Workers are being exploited in the Gulf states, in Malaysia, that’s where the lethal exploitation takes place, not on Everest!

  8. Damien Francois on Says:

    Read: “What the Nepalese government is doing…”

  9. Shyam on Says:

    Just a few says back Nepalis were busy burning Modi’s effigies

  10. Grimalzee on Says:

    Yogendra Sakya’s suggestion of inviting the Indian Prime Minister to Nepal’s

    premium tourist destinations lie Lumbini ,Janakpur and Muktinath is superb

    at this stage no doubt, . It is very timely as President Xi of China on the proposal

    of the Indian Prime Minister Modi have decided to work jointly with the

    government of Nepal on the rebuilding the earthquake devastated country of Nepal.

    This is a great departure from the age old Indian government stand,a departure from the Nehruvian doctrine of working only bilaterally with her weak neighbors like Nepal and so.
    Kudos to Mr. Modi an iconoclast from behalf of the Nepalese country men.
    Let it not be a temporary action taken as one shot operation.
    Let it be for all time sake.
    Ofcourse it will keep some others not very happy though!

  11. Grimalzee on Says:

    Yogendra Raj Devakota’s advice is very technically right; but politically un-acceptable.
    Our diplomacy must be based on our national interest only not on any other grounds.
    Yes bringing Dalai Lama , a great humanist personage and performing kalachkra like in Bodgaya can attract many visitors from all over the world,particularly from the West..

    But we cannot go against our permanent friend that is the Peoples Republic of China.
    Chinese help will be a great help, numero uno at this juncture, as times has shown./proven. Chinese aid is time bound and always cent percent realizable. It will be number one , numero uno in the coming days to.

  12. Ravi Raj Kaur on Says:

    I was told by the consulate there is a negative advice to travel, so if I break my leg I need an extra insurance medical before departure from Europe. So I go home I am a previous journalist nothing will happen to me, so there is a larger context.
    My guess is other people will come the same ones like before, and some, the generation older than myself who is already 60, will retire from camping out.
    You have a wonderful generation who does not know what is maobadi, Bibek Nepal people, Baburam will also retire with Prachandra both are 60, they can have a rest.
    As much we love them. I think there will be not bandha when I come next week.
    Namste and Mother Earth did this not the king, not the politicians. Why they could not cooperate well? Because people think money they never thought about dying in Sindulpalchowk that is just us journalists. And doctors. So young people do your plus two your old life of whiskey and party has been interrupted, now is now. And yes I would avoid trekking that is obvious since forever, many ways to earn a living than off tourists my god.

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