Kathmandu, Mar. 27:The tourism business hit hard for the past two years by successive waves of the coronavirus pandemic in Nepal and beyond has now started witnessing gradual revival after the government allowed all sectors of businesses to run in a normal way.
Flows of both domestic and international tourists have been increasing compared to the past few months, hotels and government officials said. Bookings for hotels and travel and tour companies are increasing, according to hotel entrepreneurs.
Those who had abandoned business due to the COVID-19 are also returning and employees who had lost their jobs too are returning to their work. The pandemic-hit tourism sectors laid off thousands of employees and workers upending their sources of livelihood.
With the decline in COVID-19 infection in Nepal and other countries, the arrival of domestic and foreign holidaymakers has started ascending and a ray of hope has emerged among tourism entrepreneurs that Nepali tourism would bounce back soon, they said. After the lifting in all types of restriction orders, Nepalis have started going out with family and friends.
Ray of hope among entrepreneurs Binayak Shah, first vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), said the flow of tourists, especially domestic ones, had been rising over the weeks which inspired hopes among tourism businessmen for revival of their business.
The major tourism destinations, including Pokhara, Sauraha, Dhulikhel and other tourist destinations, have recorded a significant rise in the number of domestic tourists. In the meantime, the arrival of foreign tourists has also been growing since January this year which also has been supporting tourism business restoration, Shah said.
According to Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), around 20,000 foreign tourists arrived in Nepal in February 2022, up from 9,146 in February last year. In January, 2022, 16,900 tourists had visited Nepal via various routes. Due to the pandemic, only 230,085 foreign tourists had visited Nepal in 2020, versus 150,962 in 2021. A total of 1,197,191 foreign tourists had visited the country in 2019.
The government has claimed that 93 per cent of the targeted population had so far got COVID jabs and this has helped to spread a positive message in the international market. This will be an opportunity for Nepal, which is recognised as a country of Himalayas and temples, to tap the market by spreading the message that Nepal is open and safe for tourists without any delay. National action plan needed "We have infrastructure and tourism products to attract tourists here. So, the government should move ahead by introducing a national action plan for the promotion and development of the tourism sector through an integrated approach among hotel, aviation, trekking and mountaineering sectors," Shah said.
It is equally important to address the growing frustration among entrepreneurs and boost up their confidence, creating an environment to reopen their businesses, he noted. "We, the businessmen, are willing to run business in hope of better days ahead even when we faced huge losses caused by the pandemic. We are hopeful that the government will come up with a strategic plan to revive the industry,” he said.
The government should prepare a concrete plan again to organise the mega event on tourism within two/three years to attract a maximum number of foreigners to Nepal, he added. Earlier, the government had cancelled the Visit Nepal Year-2020 campaign due to the sudden outbreak of the pandemic.
Hotel occupancy reaches 30% "If any fourth variant of coronavirus does not come again and the current war between Ukraine and Russia does not last long, Nepal's tourism sector will soon start climbing its previous trajectory," said C.N. Pandey, former president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents. The present in-flow of tourists has shown that the tourism sector is likely to sustain from the next month (April), Pandey said. “We expect that the industry will move towards loss recovery from next year," he added.
At present, the occupancy rate of hotels stands at an average of 30 per cent. "Number of employees in hotels has now reached about 60 per cent and it will reach cent percent soon. Due to COVID, the sector had cut about 70 per cent of its staff," he said.
Travelling fever grips Nepalis Positive symptoms have been seen in the tourism sector after two years as the flow of domestic tourists has started increasing gradually, Kiran Prasad Shrestha, Managing Director of Hotel Himalayan Horizon of Dhulikhel, said. "In the meantime, foreign guests have also started coming to Nepal. This has inspired hope among the entrepreneurs that their businesses will experience revival," Shrestha said. The 2015 earthquake in Nepal and subsequent outbreak of the pandemic from China at the end of 2019 had helped in developing a psychology among Nepalis for enjoyment with family and friends on weekends. On Fridays and Saturdays, all hotels operating in Dhulikhel are almost fully packed while on other days, the flow of tourists is normal, Shrestha said.
NTB begins promotional activities "We are doing domestic and international marketing everywhere possible. We are discussing it either sitting in physical or virtual mode. Work is underway to find various new destinations," spokesperson for NTB Mani Raj Lamichhane said.
The growing trend of domestic as well as foreign tourists in all destinations has shown that the tourism sector is moving towards the path of recovery, he said. He expressed his hope that the sector would revive shortly as Nepal has become the choice of foreigners to visit.
"Another message was spread in the international market that there were very few cases of infected foreigners who stayed in hotels in Nepal during the pandemic." Recently, the Tourism Sector Rehabilitation Steering Committee has been formed with the aim of reviving the tourism industry.
Tourism leave scheme stalled The government announced a 10-day tourism leave for civil servants to promote domestic tourism through the fiscal budget of 2021/22. But it has not come into effect by the end of eight months of the current fiscal year.
"If the provision had come into effect quickly, it would have promoted domestic tourism and supported the revival of business," entrepreneur Shah said. According to an official at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA), the provision has been put on hold by the Ministry of Finance. The MoCTCA had already sent the final work procedure to the Finance Ministry for its opinion, but the work procedure file has remained pending at the MoF, said Hom Prasad Luitel, joint secretary at MoCTCA.