Thursday, 23 May, 2024

Nepal's tourism witnesses gradual signs of recovery


By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Dec. 4: The year 2020 was supposed to be a grand one for tourism in Nepal. The government had declared the ‘Visit Nepal Year’ aiming to attract two million tourists and tourism-dependent businesses were excited about its outcome.
Unfortunately, what it had was losses, closures and hardships.
According to figures with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), tourist arrivals dropped by more than 77 per cent in the first 10 months of 2020 as compared to 2019. Last year, 966,023 tourists had arrived in Nepal from January to October. This year, that number stands at just above 218,000.
“The coronavirus decimated our industry,” said Hemant Sah Teli, who operates a guest house in Bhaktapur and organises valley tours for tourists.
“Restrictions on flights stopped the flow of foreign tourists while the lockdown and curbing of inter-district travel affected domestic travellers.”
The storm clouds had started gathering from the end of last year, said tourist guide Bishwas Pakhrin. “People planning to visit Nepal got spooked early on because of the first COVID-19 outbreak in China. That is why the tourist numbers weren’t strong even before the lockdown."
Supporting Pakhrin’s assertion is the fact that tourist arrivals had already dropped by two per cent in January – two whole months before the lockdown began.
January and February both recorded considerable drops in visitor numbers but things truly took a turn for the worse from March. The worst months were April and May, recording only 10 and 30 tourist arrivals respectively.
However, the graph has ticked up from June, albeit only slightly. NTB’s statistics show that arrivals were 100 in June, 195 in July, 268 in August, 582 in September and 1,874 in October.
But Sah Teli cautions against calling this a recovery. “This is a positive progression but not enough to compensate for the losses of the past several months.”
He explains it this way, “Nepal welcomed around 1.19 million tourists in 2019 and 1.17 million in 2018. Now contrast that with this year when we might even struggle to bring 500,000. Doesn’t that show the crevasse we are in?”
Nevertheless, Chandra Rijal, chairman of Nepal National Entrepreneurs Tourism Association (NNETA) and former president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), believes that things are at least heading in the right direction.
“A few overseas tourists have been coming to Nepal and they have found that the coronavirus incidence is not as bad as it has been made out to be. They are pleased with the safety precautions and are happy to travel around,” he said, adding, “They have also carried this message home with them which is helping spread a positive message internationally.”
Rijal informed that with restrictions on flights largely lifted and nightlife, especially in Thamel, resuming after eight months, tourism was on a path to recovery. “We need a long time to recuperate the losses inflicted by the pandemic but we can be hopeful that within one year, we can recover at least 25 per cent of it.”
But he put a condition. “Things may be improving now but to maintain this momentum is hard. Thus, all segments of the economy need to come together to attract visitors to the country and take the tourism industry forward in the time of coronavirus pandemic.”