Tourism for inclusive growthTourism needs a proper ecosystem with necessary infrastructure to make the destination accessible.
The global economy has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Foreign Affairs, global growth declined by 4.4 percent in 2020 and has been further pushed down to $11 trillion this year. Around 100 million people are projected to have been forced into extreme poverty last year—the first rise in two decades. Lower-income countries have to bear the brunt of a global crisis in the form of war, terrorism, an outbreak of deadly diseases, petroleum crisis, and climate change. According to the IMF, advanced economies have been able to withstand the economic crisis with their monetary and fiscal stimulus packages equivalent to about 24 percent of their GDPs.
In comparison, lower-income countries have only managed less than two percent. There isn’t much to cheer about as the world stares into what appears to be the bottomless abyss of an economic downturn. The malaise runs deep. The pandemic has wrought, wreaked, and created havoc that forced entire industries to a standstill.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), in 1950, only 25 million people travelled across the globe. By 2019 (before the advent of Covid-19), the number had grown to 1.5 billion, and their spending was around $1.5 trillion. The World Trade Organisation believed that international travel made up 6.5 percent of global exports in 2019.
The UNWTO termed 2020 as the worst year in tourism history with 1 billion fewer international arrivals. International tourist arrivals dropped by 85% in January-May 2021 compared to the same period of the pre-pandemic year 2019, or 65% over 2020. According to the UNWTO, the impact of Covid-19, at least from an economic point of view (an additional 32 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020), has been more devastating than any other crisis in recent history.
UNWTO emphasises, “the most vulnerable members of societies, have been less able to cope with the social and economic effects of the pandemic…low-paid workers, youth, the elderly, indigenous communities, and differently-abled people, are in many cases also less likely to have the resources or opportunities to bounce back from adversity.” Understanding the gravity of the situation in tourism, UNWTO has designated 2021, 27 September, as a day to focus on Tourism for Inclusive Growth, primarily focusing on the economic part. The message is simple; if tourism grows, then social and economic benefits grow along with it.
UNWTO has also highlighted differently-abled people among the most vulnerable groups. World-wide accessible tourism is gaining popularity, including in Nepal. Accessible tourism produces an understanding that endures, and for most, it is a journey full of inspiration.
Interestingly, accessible tourism has full potential to connect economic activities, and a transformative journey—that always makes a great experience at the destination. According to Lonely Planet, 50% of people with disabilities would travel more if suitable facilities were available to them wherever they travelled. Studies show that around 88 percent of people with disabilities take a holiday each year.
NTB has developed the Pioneer Accessible Trekking Trail in Naudanda, Kaskikot, Pokhara, Lekhnath Metropolitan City. The trail is 1.24 Km length and about 6 feet in width, which runs around the altitude of 1,535 to 1,568 m. The trail has adequate signage and basic infrastructure to ensure the visitors' safety and enhancement of their trail. This trail is specially designed for wheelchair users, senior citizens and slow walkers. It is rapidly gaining popularity amongst visitors.
It should be understood that accessible tourism means “Tourism for All”. However, it needs a proper ecosystem that includes all hotels, restaurants, washrooms, sidewalks, etc., that have the necessary infrastructure to make the destination more accessible and tourism-friendly.
The tourism sector is the third-highest contributor to the GDP of Nepal. It not only brings foreign money but also gives employment to millions, and indirectly it has more multiplier effects on other sectors. Tourism in Nepal has suffered a great loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic leading to significant job losses. Hundreds of thousands of people who rely on tourism in Nepal, such as tour guides, trekking guides, mountain guides, porters, and tea-houses in trekking areas, have been severely affected by the pandemic, losing their jobs entirely and pushing them to abject poverty.
In 2020, in response to the severe impact of the pandemic, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) to help the most vulnerable frontline workers of the tourism industry. The project was designed as an Immediate Livelihood Support for the Most Vulnerable Workforce in the Tourism sector by engaging them in cleaning trekking routes in the mountains and major tourist destinations in Nepal. Five places were selected for the purpose: Pokhara Metropolitan City, Madi Rural Municipality, Annapurna Rural Municipality, Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality, and Janakpur.
NTB collaborated and coordinated with respective local bodies for the implementation of the project. Stricter selection guidelines were made, so that vulnerable groups are not left behind. Gender and social inclusion were also ensured in the selection of the beneficiaries. The project’s workforce comprised 33 percent women. Almost 300 workers benefitted from the project. The project helped the most vulnerable workers whose livelihoods depended on tourism and had lost their jobs to the pandemic. It is believed that the project has allowed them to remain in the same profession even during the pandemic. The entire ideas and experiences have been the basis for the second project, which is currently ongoing.
Currently, NTB and UNDP have embarked on another project, the Sustainable Tourism for Livelihood Recovery that aims to support the revival of the tourism sector and focuses on providing short-term employment to the vulnerable communities whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism. Furthermore, the project also looks upon activities to support the long-term revival of the tourism sector by creating sustainable jobs and livelihood opportunities in partnership with the private sector.
Tourism recovery programmes must incorporate inclusive growth, which is only possible if vulnerable groups or those at the bottom of the pyramid are taken care of with a holistic framework, integrated approaches, and widespread societal participation, as seen in the above projects. With all its financial muscle, the government must have broader visions and strong political will backed by the interventional capability to meet unexpected challenges and ensure that a proper ecosystem is rolled out, so that vulnerable groups are adequately taken care of. Also, to achieve the essence of inclusive growth, digital inclusion, financial inclusion and integration, constant upskilling of the workforce must be equally incorporated into the programmes.