Confusion reigns over the Visit Nepal campaign with no clear statement from the government regarding its fateDespite the prime minister’s directive to postpone the tourism campaign, the Tourism Ministry and Nepal Tourism Board have conflicting takes.
The government appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach before any formal decision is made regarding the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.
In the face of the global coronavirus epidemic, the government has yet to take a formal decision on the fate of the much-vaunted tourism campaign. So far, only international promotional activities have been cancelled, amid widespread calls to postpone the campaign.
Despite Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s instruction to the Tourism Ministry to postpone the Visit Nepal 2020 last Sunday, confusion continues to persist, as the government has not officially announced whether the tourism campaign is cancelled, postponed or continued.
Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, who is also the government’s spokesperson, told the press at the weekly Thursday briefing that for now, all programmes, including international promotional activities for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, had been called off.
“Based on the status of the Covid-19, we will take necessary steps and announce the plan accordingly,” he said.
Normally, the government on Thursday makes public all its weekly Cabinet decisions in writing but Khatiwada did not mention the status of Visit Nepal explicitly.
Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, the Tourism Ministry secretary, told the Post that they will first complete an evaluation of the campaign before taking a concrete decision.
“For now, it’s stopped, and decisions regarding how the campaign should move will be decided once the prime minister returns to office,” said Adhikari, who did not clarify what exactly ‘stopped’ meant and for how long.
Oli is currently in hospital after undergoing a kidney transplant on Wednesday.
The Visit Nepal Secretariat, an ad-hoc body formed to oversee tourism promotions and coordinate the campaign, also awaits the government’s decision about its future. The Secretariat had prepared various programmes and projects for this fiscal year with an estimated budget of Rs617.4 million.
An official at the Secretariat, who did not wish to be named, said they have already released payments of Rs140 million as of February-end. Last fiscal year, the Secretariat spent Rs46 million on promotional activities abroad and on various events in the country.
According to Adhikari, the fate of the Visit Nepal Secretariat will also be decided at a future meeting with the prime minister.
The lack of clarity over Visit Nepal even extends to the Nepal Tourism Board, the country’s tourism promotion body. While the Tourism Ministry said that the campaign has been “stopped”, board officials believe that only promotional activities have been cancelled.
Dhananjay Regmi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board, said that the campaign has neither been postponed nor cancelled.
“For the time being, promotional activities have been halted,” he said. “We have an option of moving to domestic tourism but we have yet to decide. Right now, we cannot do anything because we should understand the ground reality of the ongoing crisis.”
The Visit Nepal 2020 campaign was planned to revitalise Nepal’s tourism industry after the earthquakes of 2015. The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report had urged the government to announce 2017 and 2018 as Visit Nepal years to reassure visitors that reconstruction and rehabilitation would be completed by then.
The comprehensive report prepared by the National Planning Commission had said there was the need to rebuild and re-brand the image of tourism, and significant efforts and resources would be required to do so. Subsequently, the Policy and Programmes for 2016-17 announced the launch of Visit Nepal Year 2018.
However, the Tourism Ministry was forced to postpone the 2018 campaign to 2020 due to the slow pace of road and airport upgradation, and reconstruction of historical monuments and cultural heritage sites.
But the 2020 campaign has been embroiled in controversy from the very beginning with entrepreneurs saying the campaign appears bound to fail. That the position of chief of the Tourism Board remained vacant for much of January, even after the campaign was launched with much fanfare, should have been a dead giveaway. But things started going downhill much earlier.
The website for Visit Nepal 2020 did not have any promotional content until at least mid-September, for instance. The Finance Ministry did not release the budget to carry out promotional activities on time. The coronavirus epidemic put the final nail on the coffin of Visit Nepal.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 8, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 209 countries and infected more than 1,431,706 people with 82,080 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,351 with 160 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 4,035 confirmed cases with 57 deaths. Nepal has so far reported nine cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.