Nepal's tourism needs all the help it can get. Besides 11 September and the Maoist threat, there is another more insidious danger to tourism, and that is the increasing numbers of cases of harassment of female tourists in Nepal.
Budget tourists are the kind that do not pay much attention to their country's warnings about Nepal, they are in their early 20s, some are on a "gap year", others just love travelling. But young women tourists to Nepal are facing problems that didn't exist 20 years ago. Most who complained of being cheated and harassed were women. Word of this is spreading through the tourist grapevine and it can do Nepal's tourism a lot of harm.
One capable young woman travelled to Pokhara on her own. She was the only foreigner in the bus. Before she got out, men were pushing onto the bus, surrounding her, shouting to get her to stay at their hotel. When she refused, they began to abuse her and harass her. She had to physically push them away to get out of the bus. She went to a shop to make a phone call and these men were jeering and shouting terrible things. She asked the shopkeeper to get rid of them so that she could make her telephone call, but he just laughed and did nothing.
Another young woman found a really nice family-run guesthouse in Pokhara. She was pleased and she felt safe. The last evening she was there, the 15-year old son came to "fix a leak" in the bathroom. He sat down in her room, causing her to feel quite uncomfortable. He then boldly asked if he could stay the night with her. She kicked up quite a fuss, told his family and refused to pay for the last night's stay.
In another low-budget guesthouse in Kathmandu two young women are accosted every night by the proprietor who tries to get into their room and bothers them by talking through the door. How about the women who walk down the streets of Kathmandu (most especially tourist centres like Thamel) and get accosted in the street by men who grab their wrists and walk along beside them making indecent and lewd suggestions? Or who talk in loud voices about them to their friends?
This is not to say that it is only the tourists who are bothered, local women-both Nepali and foreign-are also harassed. Nor is it that all Nepali men are like this. It is but a small percentage of mostly young (early teens to early twenties) men who are behaving in this fashion. But it is happening more and more regularly at a time when tourism is already suffering. The Nepal Tourism Board would do well to address this problem through an awareness campaign through domestic media.
(Patricia Lustig is an independent development consultant and writer who has been working in Nepal since 1993.)