In accordance with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, the Government of Nepal announced that 2020 will be the year to ‘Visit Nepal’. This year was set to be committed towards the tourism industry, promoting the country as a vacation destination for the entire world. When the year began, numerous traditional and cultural performances with a variety of music and dance in Dashrath Rangasala inaugurated the event on the 1st of January 2020. Several events ranging from the 2nd Annual Ice Climbing Festival, Nepal Tattoo Convention, Otaku Jatra, to the Sustainable Summit Conventions were planned from January to December.
All of the events were successful for the first two months, until before the Prime Minister, K. P. Sharma Oli, took the decision to postpone the campaign from the 1 March keeping in mind the coronavirus outbreak in China. All the promotions for the year were cancelled, making the event a failure. However, cancelling the promotions in March led to a high amount of losses for all those who had invested in the campaign. Nevertheless, as of now, it has been decided by the Government that the campaign will be revamped two years later as ‘Visit Nepal 2022’.
Travel restrictions began on 7 March when visa on arrival for foreign nationals were halted. Since March, the tourism industry experienced a downward spiral as the country faced two lockdowns and numerous travel restrictions. All commercial flights were cancelled. In addition, unemployment in the country rose rapidly as workers from various sectors including those from the tourism industry were unable to adapt to the work from their home modality. Finally, after a halt of approximately seven months, the festival season in October brought a sigh of relief to the people and businesses involved in domestic tourism.
Travelling amongst the citizens started when the government allowed domestic airlines to resume flights from the 21 September, with a 50 percent occupancy rate on each flight. However, with no foreign tourists, only 25 percent of restaurants are operating in Pokhara, and Chitwan is sustaining itself with one third of its annual footfalls. Even with this slight increase in the level of tourism for certain cities, restaurants and hotels are not being able to earn enough revenue to retain their employees with sufficient wages. Moreover, even one of the more popular destinations of Nepal, Mount Everest, is found to have significantly emptied this year. Not unlike the Terai Regions, domestic tourists started to revisit the Everest and Khumbu trails around Dashan and Tihar while they were looking for ways to spend time outdoors. However, the tourism industry still continues to operate in heavy loss or no profit. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that globally, international tourist arrivals decreased by 56 percent and USD $320 billion in exports from tourism were lost in the first five months (January to May) of 2020.
Despite all the distress the tourism industry faced due to the lack of tourists, there have also been certain advantages to the environment. For instance, the mountain guides in Nepal took this as an opportunity to clean the Everest trail. As the Himalayan range has become more and more popular as a travel destination in the previous years, the amount of garbage in the mountains continued to pile up. Therefore, with the absence of trekkers, the guides were able to find an opportunity to clean the area and improve the trekking trail. Similarly, women in Khumjung used the lockdown period to clean their neighborhoods and build a waste management plan for their area. In continuation, the overall reduction of carbon emissions throughout this year resulted in a massive improvement of the environment. As per a study conducted Nepal’s emissions are projected to be 0.7% to 2.4% lower as compared to 2019.This further led to Mount Everest being visible from Kathmandu for the first time in many years.
Now that the holiday season is over, the tourism industry is once again at stake. However, this time the government has been working on an agreement with respect to restarting commercial flights to and from India and some other nations, which will mean joining the ‘Air Bubble’ scheme. This scheme is a system that has been established between two countries that allows carriers of both countries to fly citizens either way, without passenger restrictions. But even in this scheme, isolation may be compulsory. Since the air bubble scheme is the safest way to travel, citizens from 23 nations will be able to travel to Nepal rebuilding the industry that has suffered the most due to the global pandemic. The ability to travel to India may also mean that Nepali citizens working for companies operating in India will be able to get their jobs back. As per data given in the International Organization of Migration’s report, approximately 3 to 4 million Nepalis live and work in India at any given time. Thus, the unemployment rate will reduce, and the economy will improve. Overall, this scheme may be one of the solutions to relieve the tourism sector of operating empty.
Apart from restarting tourism in the country, there are a few ways in which the industry and its firms can be supported by the government. Firstly, the taxes, regulations, levies, and charges impacted the tourism and transport sector can be reviewed. A temporary suspension in a fair and non-discriminatory manner can be extremely helpful to reduce the costs of production. On the other hand, the government can also promote and develop digital training for employees to enhance skills in their field.
All in all, Nepal was not able to live up to its tourism goal of bringing 2 million tourists to the country due to the global pandemic. However, with certain changes in the travel restrictions, the industry might be able to sustain itself and reduce its losses as commercial flights are set to restart before the year ends.
Thumbnail picture source: Eshika Agrawal