"Nepal Is Safe, We Should Tell The Travellers"

As earthquake has badly damaged the tourism industry, Binayak Shah, general secretary of Hotel Association Nepal, spoke to New Spotlight on various issues. Excerpts:

June 12, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 09 No. -1 June. 12- 2015 (Jestha 29, 2072)

How is the state of tourism following the earthquake?

The tourism sector is badly hurt by the earthquake. Tourism is now at a crossroads. We are now working on how to move forward from the present. This is a natural disaster and no one could have prevented it. Thus, the only way before us is to move forward with consultations with all the stakeholders.

How do you see the arrival of tourists?

The number of tourists coming to Nepal for holiday and pleasure has drastically reduced. Foreigners who are coming now are with specific objectives. Most of the foreigners now in Nepal are those who work in disasters related work including diplomats, medical teams and etc.

What should be main focus?

Now our main focus should be to assure the foreigners that Nepal is completely safe for them despite the natural hazards. Nepal is a safe place for foreigners. The media needs to play a very important role here. The ground reality should be disseminated.

How about the heritage sties?

Of course, some heritage sites were damaged in Kathmandu but Kathmandu has still a lot of temples which are intact. Ninety –five percent of hotels are intact and are operational. Similarly, majority of trekking trails are safe and alright. The quake damaged Gaurishanker, Manasalu and Langtang trekking trails. However, Annapurna, Everest and other trekking trails in eastern and the trekking trails of west Nepal are still safe. The negative publicity has badly damaged the image of Nepal. The government agencies, diplomatic missions abroad and media should be mobilized to boost the image of Nepal. We have to start the renovation of damaged trekking routes. Our international airport is perfect.

How do we assure foreigners that Nepal is safe?

There are many neutral agencies which certify the safety of particular country affected by disasters. We need to mobilize such agencies. We need to get certification from them to promote it and say, for example, if trekking trails are alright.

What should Nepal do now?

Now, we are right before the monsoon season. This is normally a slow season. Except Indians, the arrival of other tourists is normally low. This is not the right time for tourists. We need to do planning for the coming autumn season, beginning from September.

Have you prepared a recovery plan?

We are in the process of making a recovery plan. The agency which prepared the recovery plan for Sichuan, Indonesia and Thailand is now also preparing the recovery plan for us. We are also working with the experts from PATA. Nepal has goodwill around the world and many people like to support us in one or the other way. We need to work as a team including the government and other different stake holders to establish Nepal’s position as a tourism destination. We need to prepare for the recovery. As the rescue and relief operation is closer to end, we need to go united for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

How soon will Nepal recover?

All stakeholders are confident that Nepal can achieve progress very soon. We will be back to the favorable destination. I am optimistic that the result will be favorable.

How do you see the infrastructural loss?

As Nepal is holding a donor conference on June 25, we are now in the process of making Post Disaster Needs Assessment. We have already made a tentative estimate of loss and damage. As people are in trauma, they are yet to open their damage. On the basis of PDNA, we can say what is the loss or damage. Hotel Association has also been actively working in this sector.

How do you see the tragedy?

This is a national tragedy with huge losses. There is a relatively lesser amount of loss in Kathmandu. However, the loss in rural areas is immense. The districts are completely ruined.  Along with physical loss, there is a psychological pressure as well. People have lost their level of confidence.  We need to support the government. Other countries also rise from this.

How do you see the tourism sector?

Tourism is a main product of Nepal. Having a lot of beautiful mountains and natural scenes as well as heritage, Nepal will come back much sooner than expected. Given the present scenario, I am confident that our recovery will be much faster. Time is the most important part. We are now in trauma and it will gradually fade away and we will back to normal.

What do you suggest now?

We need to move with determination. We have a lot of friends at international level. During the time of relief and rescue operation, we have seen how international community supported us. They have shown how much they love this country. This is a great good will only a few countries enjoy at that level. We need to bring new innovative ideas and plan of course, we cannot promote pleasure tourism but we can promote mission tourism.  Kasthmandap is a landmark of Kathmandu. Thus, we need to rebuild it as soon as possible. If we ask international support for the reconstruction, many citizens around the world can be mobilized to reconstruct it. We can find a lot of people. We need to make the right decision in right time. The time has come. We need to bring international celebrity, gurus of international travels and international media.

As hotels have badly suffered, what kinds of support you require from the government?

We have to bear the regular expenses like salaries of the staff even if we don’t have tourists and we don’t have income. As a short term measure, the banks need to provide soft loans. With the capacity of the industries, the government should provide us certain loan scheme, which can pay back. Like for the construction of houses, the government should provide short term soft loan to the Hotels. For the long run, there is the need to give concessional loans to the hotels. Recovery plans will also say something on it. Banks also need to reschedule the loan.

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