Mountaineers are found attracted to climb the 8,163-metre-tall Mount Manaslu this autumn. Department of Tourism has granted permission to 160 climbers of 16 expedition groups to climb Mt Manaslu.
Similarly, a group has taken permission to climb Mt Kanchanjangha, according to the Department. A total of Rs 3.146 million has been collected as royalty so far from it. Autumn is considered the best season for climbing mountains. A remarkable number of domestic and foreign mountaineers used to climb mountains in this season.
At a time when the recent dismal data of tourists arrival in Nepal by Nepal Tourism Board shows a hopeless situation, the attraction of mountaineers to climb the two peaks have given a ray of hope for a slow recovery.
As the nation was overwhelmingly enthusiastic to welcome record numbers of tourists in 2018 and 2019, crossing one million, it is grimmest picture to see the arrival of 66,000 foreign tourists in the first eight months of 2021. Going through these two scenarios, no one needs to have an expertise to know the current state of tourism industry and its implications to the economy.
NTB reports that 66,966 foreign tourists have visited Nepal from January to August. A total of 5,917 foreign tourists entered Nepal via air route in the month of August. However, 265 tourists had entered Nepal in the same period last year.
According to the official data, 94,749 tourists had visited Nepal in the month of August 2019 before the coronavirus infection was detected in the country. The tourism sector of the country has been mostly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The inflow of foreign tourists to the country is disappointing. NTB Spokesperson Mani Lamichhane, however, said that a scanty number of foreign tourists are visiting Nepal even during the present pandemic.
A total of 8,874 foreign tourists visited Nepal in January, 9,146 in February, 14,977 in March, 22,450 in April, 1,468 in May, 1,143 in June and 2,991 in July of 2021, Lamichhane added.
Along with Balance of Payment situation of Nepal, tourism sector has started to show its impact across sectors of Nepal’s economy. If things do not improve, it will likely create a social and economic upheaval.
Vice President of Confederation of Chamber and Industry (CNI) Raj Bahadur Shah has said that COVID-19 pandemic has rocked Nepal’s tourism sector. Addressing interactions with the tourism entrepreneurs, Shah discussed the effects of COVID-19 and ways to revive the tourism sector.
According to tourism entrepreneurs, 17 percent of the hotels have already shut down and there is a growing risk of employment of about 1 million workers employed in the tourism sector.
Participated by representatives of 17 different tourism related institutions, the event stressed the need for special package from the government to revive the tourism sectors.
As tourism sector has been facing a severe economic situation, they have demanded special packages from the government like collateral free loans, tax review and other such facilities to all the tourism entrepreneurs.
They also urged the government to start the opening of tourism sector demanding to revoke 15 days quarantine for the tourists with negative PCR report and two dozes of vaccines.
Tourism entrepreneurs have complained that they are yet to get any facilities despite the government announcement of listing tourism sector as highly affected sector.
CNI vice president Shah said that the CNI is always there to take initiatives to address the problems faced by the sector.
Along with private sector, the drastic reduction of tourism arrivals has also affected public sector like the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).
As the number of air passengers declined significantly in the fiscal year 2020/21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of passengers in international flights dropped by 73.27 per cent and the number of passengers in domestic flights fell by 59.46 per cent in the last fiscal year.
The number of international passengers was 4.138 million in 2019 which tumbled to 1.105 million in 2020. Similarly, the number of domestic passengers plummeted to 1.292 million in 2020 from 3.188 million in 2019.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that passenger flow declined by about 74 per cent in international flights and 50 per cent in domestic flights in the Asia-Pacific region due to COVID-19.
ICAP also projects a decline of 67 to 75 per cent of international passengers and 20 to 30 per cent of domestic passengers in 2021.
With the decrease in passengers, the revenue of CAAN has also declined.
CAAN stated in the progress report that its revenue fell 43 per cent and 72 per cent in the fiscal years 2019/20 and 2020/21 respectively.
Revenue of CAAN stood at Rs. 2.95 billion in the last fiscal year which is 72 per cent less than the revised revenue of Rs. 10.54 billion for the fiscal year 2019/20.
CAAN’s capital expenditure also remained low in the last fiscal year.
Since the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions stalled work on various development projects being implemented by the authority, its capital expenditure also came down.
Of the Rs. 30.64 billion allocated for capital expenditure by the aviation regulatory body in the last fiscal year 2020/21, only Rs. 11.36 billion was spent.
Furthermore, the report stated that the projects related to the development of airport infrastructure being implemented with investment from the government of Nepal and loan assistance from donors have been repeatedly pushed back due to the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The progress report of CAAN stated that the renovation work of the international terminal building and the internal terminal building has completed as per the plan to develop Tribhuvan International Airport as a boutique airport.
The total number of airports in Nepal now stands at 54. Out of them, 37 airports have blacktopped runways. However, only 35 of 54 airports are in operation.
Currently, Tribhuvan International Airport is the only international airport in the country. Two more international airports, Gautama Buddha International Airport and Pokhara International Airport, are under construction.
Vaccination and Tourism
The link between tourism recovery and vaccination has already been established. A new report issued by the UN World Tourism Organization warns that an uneven rollout of vaccines around the world means that 'it is unlikely tourism will bounce back to its pre-pandemic levels within a year or two'.
Based on average tourism revenue of 2019, an NTB study estimates monthly tourism loss of Rs 10 billion in the wake of the pandemic. With its contribution of eight per cent to the GDP and direct employment of 243,000, and indirectly almost 1.1 million people, Nepal cannot afford to forego another tourist season, say stakeholders.
"The government has already announced free visa to foreign visitors and we are also promoting domestic tourism, especially targeting civil servants, which should be pivotal for recovery of the tourism industry," said Mani Raj Lamichhane, NTB director.
A recent health ministry survey revealed that over two thirds of Nepal's population has developed antibodies against COVID-19 and inoculation of majority of tourism sector workers should also lure visitors, he added.
But in view of the paradigm shift in global tourism trends, industry experts are not convinced it is enough.
"The government should be aggressively marketing and promoting such positive news because the success of autumn tourist season (September to November) hinges on Nepal's ability to persuade visitors of their health safety," said Suman Pandey, secretary/ treasurer of Pacific Asia Travel Association.
According to him, proper promotion and recovery strategy could help revive the tourism industry by up to 50 per cent of the pre-pandemic level. "The main deterrent for tourists wanting to visit Nepal right now is the mandatory quarantine requirement even if they have been fully vaccinated."
Meanwhile, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Taranath Adhikari informed that the proposal for quarantine waiver for fully vaccinated travelers with negative PCR report has been sent to the Cabinet for deliberations.
Recent global tourism trends have shown that vaccination can revive the tourism industry faster than any other means. Wide vaccinations are prerequisite to revive the tourism industry.
However, Nepal’s pace needs to increase. Although Nepal Government has announced a strategy to immunize all the population in priority group by end of 2021, it has just vaccinated over 20 percent.
With the generous support from different countries and lending of multilateral agencies, Nepal has been receiving the vaccines. Nepal also has purchased the vaccines from its own sources.
Vaccine to tourism sector
As many as 600 hotel entrepreneurs, employees and locals have so far received vaccines against coronavirus infection in Nagarkot – a popular tourism city in the suburb of Kathmandu.
Hotel entrepreneurs said they are feeling secured after receiving double doses of vaccines. The vaccination drive became effective in Nagarkot due to the good coordination of the District Health Office, Kavre and Nagarkot-Naldum Tourism Development Committee.
“We feel a sigh of relief after being inoculated. The coronavirus infection rate was also decreasing. With this, we are hopeful of the gradual recovery of pandemic-battered tourism enterprises”, said committee secretary and Mount Everest Hotel’s operator, Pradeep Jung Adhikari.
The successful vaccination drive here has imparted a message that Nagarkot was ‘safe’ with the administration of vaccination service to all hotel operators, grocery and vegetable entrepreneurs.
Some recent events show that there is a ray of hope in the horizon for the gradual revival of Nepalese tourism sector. The question needing answer is this: how will Nepal’s tourism entrepreneurs sustain their ventures given their own depleting financial state?