Tourism minister proposes unshackling travel to revive economyThe Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee will discuss the proposals aimed at revitalising the economy before sending them to the cabinet for approval, officials said.
Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said on Thursday that they had proposed four actions to help revitalise the economy even as the fight against the virus continues—increase flight frequency, allow projects to bring foreign technicians, resume domestic flights and open trekking and mountaineering.
“The proposals were tabled at the secretariat of the Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee today,” said Bhattarai, speaking at an interaction organised by the Society of Economic Journalists-Nepal.
“As Nepalis, mostly migrant workers, are returning home in large numbers, we discussed increasing the flight frequency with the Foreign and Labour ministries and the prime minister to help them.”
The number of flights are currently capped, and airlines are not allowed to bring more than 800 passengers per day, he said.
“With increased flight frequency, airlines will be able to bring more than 2,500 passengers daily,” he said, adding that the passenger movement would not only aid the airline business but also support the hotel industry.
Bhattarai said that flight frequency would be increased at the request of airlines or foreign companies wishing to repatriate Nepalis at their own cost.
“We are losing Rs10 billion monthly. The tourism industry has lost nearly 1 million direct jobs,” he said. “We know this, and we are working to revive the industry because a small country like ours depends on tourism.”
Bhattarai said that they had proposed resuming domestic passenger flights from October in view of the upcoming festivals like Dashain.
He also said that the ministry had proposed allowing projects to bring technicians from foreign countries. Many projects have been left in limbo as skilled workers are stuck in different countries. “Projects like Gautam Buddha and Pokhara international airports may suffer if we do not bring skilled workers,” he said.
After the lockdown was lifted in the third week of July, big and small projects funded by the government or private institutions were allowed to mobilise workers. But the government was not allowed to bring in skilled foreign workers, resulting in a large number of projects coming to a stop in the final phase of completion.
“We have also recommended to the committee to open up the trekking and mountaineering sector for foreign tourists,” he said, adding that they should be allowed if they bring negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test reports with them.
A Tourism Ministry official told the Post that all proposals tabled at the committee are minutely discussed before sending them to the cabinet for approval. “The proposals to increase flight frequency and bring foreign skilled workers have been discussed before, and they may be okayed.”
But the proposal to allow foreign tourists may be rejected as the Health and Foreign ministries have not been very keen about the idea right from the beginning, the unnamed official said.
“I don’t think the Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee will open the country to foreign tourists as proposed by Minister Bhattarai.”
Binayak Shah, senior vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal, told the interaction that the government itself was in a dilemma over opening the country to foreign tourists.
“The government should be clear on this issue. Our industry has to plan ahead, and we don’t want to be disappointed every time as the government has been changing its decision frequently. We cannot make new plans every seven days.”
Khum Bahadur Subedi, president of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal, said that the government’s decision had always been creating confusion in the industry. “It should be clear on the timetable of opening the country. The government should also clearly say that it is issuing on-arrival visas for tourists from this date.”
On July 20, the government decided to reopen the hotel, trekking and mountaineering sectors from July 30; and accordingly, they made revival plans. But the government backtracked on its decision.
According to a domestic airline official, Tourism Minister Bhattarai had informed them that the government would not be reopening the airline sector any time soon. “How can we trust the ministry as it has been frequently changing its word?” the official said. “The entire sector is being affected because of the government’s unplanned response.”
Nepal’s Covid-19 tally reached 50,465 on Thursday with 1,246 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. The country reported five more Covid-19-related fatalities, taking the death toll to 317.
According to the Ministry of Health and Population, the active case count stands at 14,448. So far, 35,700 individuals have made a successful recovery—1,818 of them in the past 24 hours.