Since the past few months, the travel agents in Nepal have been developing very attractive domestic vacation packages. To attract certain segment of the population and develop confidence in the tourism industry among consumers, good hotels are offering packages that are very attractive and low priced. There seems to be at least some people who are taking up these offers, however many still lack confidence to actually take up these attractive offers. While public transportation are now being used more and more, the general fear of possible infection is still there. Pathao motorcycles and taxis are now being used more frequently by people of all ages, however, how safe is this is still a question many cannot answer. The tourism industry has been affected the most by the COVID 19 pandemic. The UNWTO estimates over 80 per cent fall in the industry in 2020, 75 million jobs affected and a loss of US$ 2.1 trillion to the industry.
Huge loss In a virtual presentation hosted by the Rotary Club of Kopundole, Prachanda Man Shrestha, former chief of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), mentioned that it would take at least four to five years more for the industry to “bounce back” towards normalcy. He further mentioned that Nepal had faced a loss of US$ 332 million by July 2020. NTB estimates that there has been a loss of US $ 83 million per month in this industry. Nepal was planning to host 2020 as Visit Nepal Year and the people involved in the tourism sector were looking forward to welcoming, entertaining, and of course earning during the year. Not only the people offering tourism services, but the overall population was looking forward to a fun filled year in Nepal with several touristic activities all over the country both for domestic and international tourists. Unfortunately, in contradiction, now there is estimation by the NTB that 1.5 billion Nepali rupees of investment, 300,000 of direct and one million indirect jobs are at risk. Shrestha mentioned that in December 2020 there was a slight rise in visitors to Nepal, but they were mainly the foreigners who were working in Nepal returning back to their jobs and the Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) people visiting their families. Tourists are still not coming for vacation. “To reach the status of 2019 we would have to wait till 2023/24,” he estimates. Now the industry needs to regain the confidence of the consumers by putting a proper crisis management strategy in place. Nepal government is now trying to put a strategy in place to help the industry to regain confidence among consumers and start offering their services. One step taken to encourage domestic tourism is by implementing a Desh Darshan Karyakram. To attract the international tourists, the government has announced that Nepal is open to tourists. Online visa with prior approval /recommendation from NTB/concerned ministries is now available with a mandatory requirement that a negative PCR report within 72 hours before arrival, a hotel booking for at least 7 days quarantine and an insurance of at least US$ 5,000 against COVID 19 per person. A health and hygiene protocol has been developed and in the process of implementation. A guideline for the mountain tourism has been prepared, however surface entry is still closed. There are very tempting domestic touristic offers being floated by travel agencies. However, the confidence level among the population is still lacking to actually take this offers. Since the last few weeks, people are now venturing to go for long drives around the valley. People who have relatives or residences outside the valley are also taking a few nights out. Given the fact that the pandemic is still a global reality, how safe are these travels? No one can really answer this question with certainty. With the new fear created by the new strains of COVID, it is a reality that the pandemic will still impact the tourism sector. The general public, especially those who need to rely on daily labour for earning enough for their daily existence, have now developed an attitude which could push them and those who come in their contact towards danger of being infected. The reality is if they do not work, they will automatically be pushed into a vicious cycle of poverty from where no one has strategies of rescuing them. So they have no option. To fight the home-locked fatigue we recently ventured out to Nawalparasi to spend a few nights with family and also took a day long drive to Kavre which is a neighbouring district from Kathmandu Valley. In both cases, there were mixed population of people wearing masks and not wearing masks. Then majority had masks under their nose or below the chin! When we questioned those who were not wearing masks the flippant answers were “Oh I have the mask but can’t remember where I kept it!” then they quickly added, “There is no coronavirus, so don’t worry!”
Safety protocols The pandemic has definitely hit the economy hard and it is important to get all industries back to normal. To get the tourism industry, both the domestic and international, back to business, it is still a daunting task. People have habits and cultures which are difficult to change no matter how they may have been forced to stay in isolated for months. The fatigue, loneliness, and loss of income has now started creating anxiety among most people. Although safety protocols have been developed and shared, how has that being implemented? Or not implemented?
(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate. email@example.com Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)