Hotel occupancy rates plummet as coronavirus outbreak takes its tollHotel Association Nepal said it would launch special packages after identifying potential tourist markets.
Madhav Dhungana & Narayan Sharma
Hotels and resorts across Nepal are worriedly watching their occupancy rates plummet with potential Chinese travellers staying home due to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent travel restrictions placed by Chinese authorities.
Hotel Association Nepal, the umbrella body of Nepal’s hotel industry, said the coronavirus was a big blow for Nepal tourism as it was not only keeping tourists from mainland China away, but also from other potential markets like India.
Read: China’s ban on outbound tours certain to affect the Visit Nepal campaign
India is the largest source market for Nepal followed by China and the US. “The tourism sector has been affected worldwide because of the epidemic,” said Shreejana Rana, president of Hotel Association Nepal, addressing a press meet in Kathmandu on Tuesday.
The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China in the very first month of the much anticipated Visit Nepal 2020 campaign has affected Nepal and the whole world.
The association said that hotels were being inundated with cancellations on a daily basis. The tourism and hotel industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus fear. It said that a circular had been issued to member hotels to take necessary precautions.
“Hotels in Bhairahawa are 50 percent empty,” said Mithun Man Shrestha, president of the Lumbini Hotel Association. “Advance bookings have also been cancelled now.”
There are more than 80 hotels in Lumbini that produce 4,500 room nights. “They are getting cancellations lasting till March,” Shrestha said. Foreign visitor numbers arriving through the Nepal-India border point in Bhairahawa have also decreased sharply.
“Chinese tourist arrivals have dropped to zero,” said Chandra Prakash Shrestha, president of the Siddhartha Hotel Association.
Cancellations of hotel bookings had reached more than 60 percent as of the first week of February, he said, adding that the epidemic was also keeping away tourists from South Korea, Sri Lanka and Europe. “We should be able to attract Indian tourists at this time,” he said.
Hoteliers said that 10 tourist groups had cancelled their bookings at the Hotel Nirvana in Bhairahawa. “We lost groups mainly from China, South Korea and the European markets," said Sunil Shrestha, manager at the hotel.
According to the Immigration Office at Belhiya, 16,409 tourists had entered Nepal through the border point in December. In January, arrivals were down to 11,759.
Hotel bookings in Nawalparasi are also being cancelled at a fast rate, said hoteliers. Deepak Tiwari, manager of the Iceland Jungle Resort, said that his hotel would be fully booked by Chinese tourists at this time of the year. “As of Saturday, all rooms had been sold out. But cancellations began pouring in on Sunday.”
According to him, a group of 45 tourists who had booked the hotel for February two months ago have cancelled their trip.
Luxury resorts are also facing a similar problem. In Nawalparasi, according to the cancellation data collected from different hotels and resorts, at least 2,400 tourists have cancelled their advance bookings for March.
Chinese visitors used to be the major clients of most of the hotels in Nawalparasi which hosts a portion of the popular Chitwan National Park.
Hotel Association Nepal said that it would launch special tourism packages after identifying other sources and potential markets. The association added that discussions with the government, airline companies and other stakeholders were in progress.
Resorts located on the banks of the Narayani River used to receive hordes of tourists at this time of the year, said Palat Chaudhary, operator of the Park View River Resort.
DB Chaudhary of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge said that except for Chinese tourists, no tourist had cancelled bookings at their resort as of Sunday.
Tourist arrivals to Nepal slowed in 2019 after three years of solid double-digit growth, raising concerns over the country’s ability to meet the Visit Nepal 2020 target of 2 million arrivals.
Foreign tourist arrivals grew by a marginal 2 percent to 1.19 million last year, according to statistics released by the Department of Immigration. Among them, 995,884 arrived by air and 201,307 through different land routes, according to the department.