Tourism industry flying blind for lack of post-pandemic recovery roadmapTourism Ministry officials say they have ‘no idea’ what the tourism revival committee has been doing.
Nepal’s tourism industry has no clue where to go from here even as the pandemic winds down because no policy has been forthcoming with the Tourism Ministry and the Nepal Tourism Board locked in an internecine feud.
The spring tourist season officially begins next week, but tourism entrepreneurs say the inquiries they have been receiving are quite disappointing.
Industry insiders complain that no decisive measures have been announced by the government to revive the sector.
A tourism revival committee has been formed, but all it has done is urge businesses to give discounts to foreign visitors, said a tourism entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.
“We have been asked to give a 20 percent discount to international tourists,” the source said. “Hotel occupancy right now is 5 percent. Giving a 20 percent discount will be like giving away rooms for free because tariffs are already at rock bottom.”
The revival committee has also requested domestic airlines to discount fares charged in US dollars.
“Instead of launching promotional programmes abroad where Covid-19 cases are down or the citizens are fully vaccinated, telling the industry to offer discounts is just an easy and populist move,” said another tourism entrepreneur.
Tourism Minister Prem Ale and Tourism Board CEO Dhananjay Regmi have been at loggerheads since October, which shows vividly how Nepal’s tourism promotion is progressing, or not.
Regmi has been under investigation for alleged irregularities. The probe committee, most of whose members are said to be close to Ale, had recommended that the board chief be sacked. But Regmi has managed to hang on to his post by getting a stay order from the court.
“Nothing is on track,” said an unnamed official of the Nepal Tourism Board. “Even the tourism revival committee has not kept Regmi onboard. We don’t believe any good will come out of the revival committee.”
But there are several recommendations proposed by the committee that will help the industry rise from the ashes if they are implemented, travel trade insiders say.
As Omicron infections taper off after an initial spike, a number of countries are recalibrating their travel rules.
Calls from tourism entrepreneurs to remove the stressful RT-PCR testing for travellers are growing louder in Nepal.
The revival committee has recommended to the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre to ease travel restrictions, basically removing the mandatory RT-PCR testing requirement for travellers to enter Nepal.
“As the virus is tapering off worldwide, we are hopeful that the government will come up with a strategic plan to revive the industry,” said Binayak Shah, senior vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal.
“We are ready to provide discounts as asked by the revival committee, but first tourists have to come. We have been receiving some inquiries, but the spring season doesn’t look as good as we have anticipated. Recovery depends on the government’s efforts.”
Tok Raj Pandey, spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry, said he had not seen or heard any recommendation made by the tourism revival committee. When asked if the ministry had implemented any measures to revive the industry, Pandey said, “No idea.”
The statement from the spokesperson reflects the poorly coordinated approach towards industry recovery.
The Post’s several attempts to contact Raja Ram Giri, coordinator of the tourism revival committee, were not immediately successful. The national level committee was constituted by Minister Ale.
The years 2020 and 2021 were ruinous for Nepal as millions around the world were in lockdown.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 2021 annual research report, the contribution of Nepal’s travel and tourism sector to the total GDP plunged by a steep 46.6 percent in 2020 due to Covid-19 related restrictions.
The London-based council said the contribution of Nepal’s tourism sector to the overall GDP nearly halved to 3.6 percent in 2020, from 6.7 percent in 2019. This means the tourism sector injected only Rs132 billion into the national economy in 2020, down from Rs247.58 billion in 2019.
The total contribution of travel and tourism to employment also dropped by 19.9 percent. This translates into 207,000 job losses in 2020. In pre-pandemic 2019, Nepal’s tourism had generated 1.04 million jobs.
The research report said that spending by international tourists plunged by 69.4 percent to Rs29.4 billion in 2020. In 2019, international tourists spent a total of Rs96 billion.
Domestic tourist spending too dropped sharply by 37.6 percent to Rs80.3 billion in 2020, down from Rs128.6 billion a year earlier.
The report shows that in 2020, domestic spending kept most countries like Nepal busy to some extent.
In 2020, spending by domestic tourists accounted for 73 percent of all tourist spending. In 2019, domestic tourist spending made up 57 percent and international tourist spending 43 percent.
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 after the incipient pandemic exploded into worldwide proportions.
The disastrous year ended with 230,085 arrivals.
Following a difficult end to 2020, Nepal’s tourism suffered further setbacks as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks.
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 150,962 arrivals in 2021 represent the lowest figure since 1977 when the country hosted 129,329 tourists, a year after tourist numbers in Nepal reached six digits for the first time.