Nepal reopens to tourists coming by air, land borders still closedTrekkers and mountaineers have been entering the country since October after the government allowed limited activities.
Nepal has thrown open the doors to foreign tourists after keeping them out for nine months as the country battled the Covid-19 pandemic.
All tourist visas have been restored, and foreign visitors are now free to fly into the country, the Department of Immigration said, but the land borders are still closed.
“Issuance of tourists entry visa from Nepali diplomatic missions abroad has resumed,” the Department of Immigration said. Only travellers with a pre-approval and recommendation of the government will be allowed entry overland, the department said.
On-arrival visas will be provided at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu only to representatives and families of diplomatic missions, United Nations agencies, international organisations and non-resident Nepalis without any pre-approval letters and recommendations, the department said.
“All foreigners should obtain a tourist visa from Nepali diplomatic missions abroad or they should have a pre-approval or recommendation letter from the concerned ministries for ensuring their ‘on-arrival’ visa at Kathmandu airport,” Ramesh Kumar KC, director general of the Department of Immigration, told the Post.
“A cabinet meeting held on December 3 decided to bring back tourists. This will help to increase arrivals to Nepal to some extent.”
On March 12, the government decided to suspend issuing on-arrival tourist visas to nationals of all countries besides cancelling spring mountaineering expeditions including Everest missions. The decision came a day after the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, and urged countries to take precautionary measures.
The government stopped international flights from March 20, and put the country under a lockdown from March 24. The stay-home order was lifted on July 21, with some restrictions still in place.
Charter and regular passenger flights resumed on September 1, but the government allowed only Nepalis and representatives of diplomatic missions, the UN and development partners to fly into Nepal.
Bowing to pressure to revive the country’s tourism industry hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government allowed foreigners to participate in trekking and mountaineering activities from October 17.
The year 2020 was supposed to be a significant year for Nepal’s tourism industry as it had major plans for its ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ campaign. Nepal was expecting some 2 million tourists this year and $2 billion in tourism-related revenue. Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak disrupted tourism plans.
According to the Immigration Department, all travellers must have a Covid-19 negative report (RT-PCR/gene Xpert/True NAAT or equivalent) obtained within 72 hours prior to their departure from the first port or the entry point to Nepal. Children below five years are exempt from this rule.
All foreigners are required to follow the health and security-related protocols of the government.
“There is a seven-day mandatory hotel quarantine for tourists coming to Nepal, and it is applicable to all, including Indian nationals who are coming to Nepal under the air bubble arrangement between Nepal and India,” said Kamal Prasad Bhattarai, spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry.
Tourists will also need to get tested for Covid-19 after five days of the isolation period before they are allowed to travel.
“The government requires all tourists to have $5,000 Covid insurance, and we are reviewing the provision based on suggestions from the private sector,” said Bhattarai.
Nepal and India have agreed to re-start flights under an air bubble arrangement with restrictions and regulations. Flights are expected to begin from December 17. The national flag carriers of both countries are scheduled to operate one daily flight each.
Nepalis travelling to India are required to undergo a two-week quarantine, and they must hold an RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test report completed less than 72 hours before departure.
The impact of Covid-19 has dealt a huge blow to Nepal’s tourism industry which generates Rs240.7 billion in revenue, and contributes almost 8 percent to the GDP, according to the annual World Travel and Tourism Council report. It supports, directly or indirectly, more than 1.05 million jobs.
Since the end of July, tourism entrepreneurs have turned to domestic visitors to stay afloat, reopening mountains and trekking trails, jungle safari and various landmarks to local travellers.
Hotels and restaurants have been struggling to survive with their guest rooms remaining empty for the last nine months. Covid-19 has thrown millions in the tourism and hospitality sectors out of a job and multiple hotels have shuttered.
Nepal’s economy is projected to grow by only 0.6 percent in 2021, inching up from an estimated 0.2 percent in 2020 as virus lockdowns disrupted economic activity, especially tourism, says the World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus Beaten or Broken?