Nepali Times
Guiding a revival



Trekking in Nepal just got more expensive.

In recent years, travellers have had to buy Maoist trekking 'permits' on many popular routes, in addition to paying the usual national park entry fees.

But trekking here, long seen as one of the best budget adventure holidays available, will now cost at least $10 more per day per person. The Trekking Registration Certificate (TRC), which the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN) launched on 27 October, has been approved in theory by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, but has not received final approval from the cabinet, ministry sources told us.

The new regulation requires that every trekker employ the services of a porter or a guide, which can easily double the daily cost of a trek for a tourist.

TAAN says the TRC will help cut down on illegal operators and make trekking safer. For example, trekking agencies will have to submit an itinerary and personal details for every trekker to TAAN, and there are TRC checkposts at several points along major trekking routes.

"The TRC will also help generate employment for many people," said Deepak Mahat, former president of TAAN and the coordinator of TRC.

But reception has been far from enthusiastic. The new permit, which costs an initial Rs 250, was introduced in the middle of the peak trekking season with little or no notice.

"If TAAN had given us six months' notice, we could have informed our clients. We now have to change quotations that we sent out well in advance of the season," said Lekha Nath Bhandari of Ample Trekking.

Tour operators say while the idea is good in principle, tourists are unlikely to be impressed by the extra costs and bureaucracy, and the positive proposed benefits, such as rescue missions for trekkers in trouble, will take some time to kick in. They also argue that there are no training programs for guides and porters and no established standards of service, making for wildly different experiences.

For visiting tour leaders, overcrowding is also a concern. Becky Harrison, an American guide who has run tours in Nepal for over ten years and recently returned from Khumbu, said, "People there are wondering where they should put all these guides and porters. They are used to individual trekkers without staff and there's no system in place to accommodate all these extra people who aren't paying anything."

But TAAN, which has been looking for a solution to manage trekking in Nepal since the old permit was abolished by the government in 1999, says it is keen to regain control of the sector even if it loses tourists in the process.

"When the old permit was abolished, a lot of bogus agencies came into existence and started operating illegally. The TRC requires every trekking agency to be registered," Mahat said.

"We might lose some individual trekkers but we are looking for quality and not quantity. Nepal is still cheaper than other destinations in the world. I don't think it will damage tourism."

No one is convinced either way, and industry insiders point to a number of short-lived regulations TAAN and other tourism bodies have attempted to introduce over the years. "We'll have to wait and watch," says Tashi Jangbu Sherpa of Everest Trekking. "There's no systematised, integrated approach to managing tourism
in Nepal. Regulations come and go."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)