Impact of COVID-19 on tourism sector

Bestowed with incredible natural scenery and rich cultural heritage, Nepal is considered as one of the most important countries to visit. Given this, tourism is one of the significant sources of income for the country contributing largely to its revenue and foreign currency. Travel and tours sector is, thus, one of the most important sectors for Nepal with the ability to boost its economic growth. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the nation-wide lockdown into effect, this sector has experienced a downfall. To understand how the travel and tours sector is doing amidst the pandemic, NEF spoke to Pankaj Pradhananga, Director of Four Season Travel and Tour and prepared a brief excerpt as below.

State of business operations

COVID-19 has caused a plunge in the travel and tours sector, and impacted it in an unprecedented way. In the past, there has never been a situation with zero clients for over two months. Since the company does not have inbound clients travelling with them, and since it is highly unlikely that it will rebound in a month or two, the business operations have completely shut off. The team members are staying home and complying with the lockdown.

The Potential Impact of COVID-19 on the Travel and Tours Sector

Tourism is one of the most important economic activities for Nepal. But with the pandemic hovering above us all and throughout the world, the global tourism industry is going to witness a huge shift in the way it has been operating in the past decades.

In Nepal, tourism has enjoyed organic growth in the last 65 years. Nepal has been selling adventure, culture and nature. Now, it will be a high time to reinvent with our products. In the coming months, international travellers will be extremely cautious about hygiene and physical distancing. Considering this, it should be ensured that the tourism operating sectors (such as airlines, hotels, restaurants, and travel and trek operators) follow the standard operating procedures religiously once the lockdown is over.

Building back confidence among the travellers will be a daunting task as the operating cost is bound to rise further due to physical distancing measures. This will result in a significant drop in the arrival of tourists to Nepal, as the destinations all over the world will put their best efforts to get the maximum share from the global tourism market. This will result in tourism businesses to shift the focus to domestic and regional markets like India and China.

Opportunities and Challenges for the Travel and Tours Sector

If we look at the tourism sector locally and globally, it has grown significantly in the last three decades. As per UNWTO, the International Tourists Arrivals in the world was a little over 0.5 billion in 1995.  In over 24 years, the tourist arrival numbers have crossed a 1.4 billion mark as of 2019.

Needless to say, there were a series of global challenges in the forms of regional war, 9/11, SARS and economic meltdown. Despite these challenges, tourism bounced forward and recorded steady growth. Likewise, though the challenges of COVID-19 are unprecedented currently, I feel that people cannot lock themselves inside for a very long period.

Travel is considered as a necessity in developed countries. Though people will take time to pack their bags and take flights for long haul trips, they will start exploring domestically as well as in nearby destinations without having to fly for hours.

In the context of Nepal, it will see the return of allocentric travellers who visit for adventure. Likewise, there is a possibility that special interest segments like spiritual tourism may put Nepal in their bucket list as well. Travellers will seek for an opportunity to experience the wellness of mind and body with a dash of inner exploration.

Key Areas to be Addressed Immediately

Some of the key areas that need to be addressed immediately for the sector to pick up momentum in the coming months are:

  • Sustainable and Sensible communication: Our marketing communication should have a message of empathy and compassion. Many destinations are engaging their customers and prospects with communication. It is better to send the message to take care and stay safe as no one would dream of a holiday in such a desperate situation. Hence, it is more suitable to share good wishes and positive vibes and help target travellers to remain calm and serene. Sharing lifting stories from Nepal and life-changing trips taken by many in the Himalaya would be more appropriate now.
  • Training/Capacity Building: When the workforce is staying idle, it is better to engage them in capacity building. We should prepare for the team for the ‘next normal’ from the ‘new normal’. Preparedness is key when businesses rebound. Tourism associations and Nepal Tourism board should organize and engage the interested ones in virtual training platforms.
  • Virtual Tourism: Nepal should create and share its key highlights and destinations on virtual platforms.
  • Fixing the basics first: Perhaps this is the best time to fix the basics. For instance, roads in Kathmandu getting a facelift are positive steps towards achieving the basics. This lockdown should be used to upgrade the arrival and departure areas in the only international airport, fixing roads and basic facilities for the benefit of the locals and visitors alike while also maintain physical distancing.

Parting thoughts

Like many sectors, travel and tours has also been hard hit by the pandemic. In light of the current situation, the government should extend support to the businesses to stay afloat. It will enable the businesses to take sensible and sustainable decisions while working for reinventing for the next normal.

The above Expert Speak edition is written by Mr. Pankaj Pradhananga. He is the Director of Four Season Travel and Tour.