Tourist arrivals down to lowest level since 1977According to the Nepal Tourism Board, the number of foreign visitors entering the country last year totalled 150,962.
Tourist arrivals continued their downward spiral in 2021, reaching the lowest level since 1977, as the coronavirus kept the industry paralysed despite several efforts to bring it back to life by relaxing entry restrictions.
According to the Nepal Tourism Board, the number of foreign visitors entering the country last year totalled 150,962, a long way from the 1.19 million arrivals in pre-Covid 2019.
The 2021 figure released on Sunday represents an 87 percent plunge from 2019 before the pandemic began its rampage.
Following a difficult end to 2020, Nepal’s tourism suffered further setbacks as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks.
In 2020, Nepal had just launched an ambitious Visit Nepal Year campaign with much fanfare, aiming to attract at least 2 million tourists, only to have to abandon the programme shortly later after the incipient pandemic exploded into worldwide proportions.
The disastrous year ended with 230,085 arrivals.
With almost zero businesses, tens of thousands of people employed in the tourism industry were furloughed or laid off.
“There was a hope that the industry would revive in 2021,” said Nandini Lahe Thapa, spokesperson for the Nepal Tourism Board, the country’s national tourism body. “But it too ended in a disaster. We are watching the scenario cautiously. We have to focus on regional markets like India and Bangladesh,” said Thapa.
The 150,962 arrivals in 2021 represents the lowest figure since 1977 when the country hosted 129,329 tourists, a year after tourist numbers in Nepal reached the six-digit mark for the first time.
It was in 1977 when Nepal established a separate Ministry of Tourism with a view to enhance tourism properly in the country.
Nepal opened to the outside world in the 1950s, following a political upheaval that also resulted in far-reaching changes in national life.
In 1955, world-renowned Thomas Cook and Sons brought a group of 60 tourists to Nepal, who were officially recognised as foreign tourists. Nepal started keeping records of foreign tourist arrivals since 1962.
According to the Tourism Board, India sent the highest number of visitors, 64,673 individuals, to Nepal last year, representing 43 percent of total arrivals. After India, Nepal received 22,853 tourists from the United States, 8,680 from the United Kingdom and 6,196 from China.
A new wave of Covid-19 infections and mandatory quarantine measures kept visitors away, threatening a recovery.
On September 23, 2021, Nepal dumped the seven-day quarantine requirement and resumed issuing on-arrival visas to all vaccinated foreign travellers in a bid to bring its virus-ravaged tourism industry back to life.
But travel trade entrepreneurs said the move came too late.
Even though the country reopened to visitors in September, just over 61,000 tourists arrived in the final quarter. When Nepal reopened its doors to tourists in September, travel activity had rebounded slightly but remained far below pre-pandemic levels.
“Based on the current trend and the new variant Omicron, a return to pre-pandemic levels is likely only in 2024,” Ashok Pokharel, president of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators, told the Post. “Besides, Nepal’s poor marketing efforts have pushed rebound possibilities further away.”
Travel and tourism businesses, which accounted for around 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product and provided more than 1.05 million jobs directly and indirectly in pre-Covid days, were the hardest hit after travel restrictions came into force in late March 2020.
There are fears that the newly discovered Covid-19 variant Omicron could disrupt global travel once again.
Nepal may receive international travellers after the entire population has been jabbed by April this year as planned, which appears probable. According to the Health Ministry, 34 percent of the 30 million population had been fully vaccinated as of Monday.
The government has announced that it has surplus vaccines, and plans to begin giving booster doses soon.
Senior travel trade entrepreneur Basant Raj Mishra said that even as tourists are willing to travel in 2022, they will suffer from a massive price hike. “From air ticket prices to hotel rates, everything is so high and expensive.”
Travel restrictions and an economic slowdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic have delivered a massive wallop to Nepal's luxury hotels, decimating revenues and profits, and the dazed hospitality industry is still struggling to recover amid huge losses.
The country’s posh hotels have posted the highest-ever losses in the last fiscal year ended mid-July; and based on the current scenario, mainly tourist arrival figures, the industry could take up to two years or longer to return to pre-Covid levels, insiders say.
Insiders say a resurgence in infections is undermining efforts to reopen the industry.
“It’s so difficult to predict the tourism outlook. All travel, trekking and mountaineering agencies had pretty good bookings for 2022 as they have reported. But now almost all of them have been cancelled,” said Thapa.
“The world has been overtaken by the Omicron scare.”