Sunday, 23 June, 2024

Omicron Dampens Tourism Hopes


With the outbreak of a third wave of COVID-19, the hope for the recovery of the tourism industry in Nepal from 2022 has been dampened. Currently, the country records more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases on a daily basis. The new coronavirus variant — Omicron — is believed to have been driving infections at such a worrying rate.

Even amid this scenario, the number of hospitalisations and deaths has not remained so high as of now. This signals that the situation may not be worse this time around as compared to the previous waves of the pandemic when hospitals were overburdened with COVID patients. Many had to lose their lives due to an acute shortage of ICU beds and live-saving oxygen in hospitals. The government has reinstated several restrictions, including area-specific lockdowns, across the nation in the wake of an unprecedented surge in the number of infections.

With the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, even many developed countries have lately witnessed a record number of infections. This variant has dealt a severe blow even to the United States of America, several European nations, including the UK, Australia, Japan, among others, where tougher measures have been in place again to rein in the contagion. The aviation sector, which is an integral part of tourism, has remained disturbed globally once again with the emergence of Omicron. Numerous top international airlines have either cut off or cancelled their flights to different destinations.

Only a limited number of foreign international carriers have been operating their flights to and from Nepal, too. Several airlines such as Korean Air have yet to resume their scheduled flights to Kathmandu because of the outbreak of different COVID variants one after another. As the pandemic has hit the global economy and most of tourist source markets for Nepal, it is quite challenging for the country to revive its tourism business for now.

However, tourism in Nepal is likely to recover slowly from the upcoming spring if the number of infections falls. Spring is a major tourist season in the country. Once the situation returns to normalcy, a lot of international mountaineers come to the country in spring to attempt different peaks. This is also a suitable period for trekkers to explore various places with unparalleled scenic beauty.
As the number of COVID-19 cases fell sharply in October and November last year, the country welcomed thousands of foreign travelers. A total of 23,284 foreign tourists entered the country by air alone in October while the number increased to 26,135 in November. Hundreds of thousands of domestic tourists also visited various destinations across the country in those months.

Prior to the pandemic, the travel industry in Nepal used to provide around 1.05 million jobs directly and indirectly, and contribute around 8 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP). With the emergence of the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, the country's tourism sector has suffered the most. Tens of thousands of employees and workers have lost their jobs from the tourism sector since the contagion emerged about two years ago.

The vaccination drive against COVID-19 has been going on successfully across the nation. And only jabbed people have been allowed to handle tourists. This has certainly raised the level of confidence among potential foreign travellers. The vaccinated tourists are not required to stay in quarantine upon their arrival even at present.