Tourism is one of the most important sectors of our country’s economy. It, directly and indirectly, employs nearly 1 million people and holds around Rs. 400 billion in investment. It is also a good source of foreign currency and a way to make the country known to the outside world. Travel and tourism also make up 7.9 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP). That is why it is vital that we reopen this sector now. It was understandable to keep tourism, like many other industries, closed during the height of the pandemic. It may be a significant source of revenue but money does not trump human lives. However, now, the risk has subsided and other businesses, even those that are far more likely to spread COVID-19 like clubs, bars and restaurants, have reopened. So, it makes no sense to keep only tourism closed.
The government has begun gradually reopening the country’s doors to visitors. It recently resumed the on-arrival visa services and has relaxed quarantine rules. But these, while positive, are not enough. We need to make it as easy for tourists to come to our country as possible which means that we need to relax our restrictions further. To be able to do that, we need to ramp up vaccinations, especially for those involved in the tourism industry.
While tourism entrepreneurs in Kathmandu and other urban areas have been prioritised for vaccination, those in rural areas have not. Many, particularly those involved in the homestay business, are still waiting to receive their first dose. Moreover, the principle of promoting safe tourism also demands that airport staff and vehicle operators be vaccinated too. The government’s focus must be on enabling V2V (Vaccinated-host to Vaccinated Tourist) tourism in the country.
V2V is when vaccinated tourists only come in contact with vaccinated service providers. This means that to bring vaccinated tourists to the country, everyone they may potentially come in contact with must also be vaccinated. And the main people that tourists come in contact with are naturally, the people working in tourism businesses. So, tourism must be reopened in Nepal by ramping up vaccinations for tourism workers. Furthermore, we must also now identify and promote new destinations. The Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, Janakpur, our national parks and mountains have all become too mainstream and foreigners can see everything they want to see from the internet. They do not need to come to the country. In order to entice them and convince them that Nepal is worth getting on a plane and travelling across the world during a virus outbreak, we must bring virgin spots to light. Local governments have a greater role to play in this than the provincial and federal governments.
Nepal has no shortage of unexplored and unseen wonders. It is just that we have never promoted them and before the pandemic, we did not need to. Travellers were happy to come to Nepal for the same old temples and the same old mountains but now, they seek extraordinary magic. Our customers want something new and as vendors, we must give them that. Otherwise, we will lose out. Let us remember that we need tourists, not they us.
Had the pandemic still been at its peak, it would have been unthinkable to advocate for an unconditional opening of tourism. But the coronavirus does not pose the same threat it did last year so we must also not be imposing the same restrictions as last year. It is a good sentiment to call for a total closure until the pandemic fully subsides but that is not practical because, as scientists have pointed out, the virus may never go away. So, we must now reopen tourism and help this industry recover because it will ultimately help our country recover.