Having suffered heavy losses, national parks hope to make up with reopeningWith onset of autumn, they are ready to welcome visitors and are banking on domestic tourists in the festival holidays.
After more than six-months of remaining shut for tourists, protected areas in the country are all set to welcome visitors once again as the country prepares for the new tourism season.
The country’s protected areas have been reopened following the government’s decision to resume services by maintaining health and safety protocols, said Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
“The government did not pass a specific decision to reopen protected parks for outsiders. But the government has decided to allow sectors such as hotels and transport, by maintaining health protocols,” Acharya told the Post. “Based on the same decision, the parks were reopened. Whether tourists come immediately or not is another matter.”
All the 12 national parks, six conservation areas, one hunting reserve and one wildlife reserve have remained shut down for outsiders since mid-March as the government introduced several measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country.
The monthslong lockdown has dried up significant revenue for these areas, where huge sums are being spent on conservation activities.
The department said that all the parks will also abide by prescribed protocols for keeping the visitors safe and not to reduce the risk of transmission of the viral disease.
With the reopening of the parks, visitors will be asked to maintain physical distance and mandatorily wear masks while waiting at ticket counters, added Acharya.
“Bottles of sanitizer bottles, water and soaps will be available at the ticket counters,” said Acharya. “But we have not set a limit on the number of visitors per day.”
The autumn season is significant for all the protected parks as they lost the spring tourist season in which they could have generated revenue required for their programmes.
Ananath Baral, chief conservation officer at Chitwan National Park—home of the one-horned rhinos and Royal Bengal tigers—the park raises a substantial fraction of its revenue from visitors.
The park raised over Rs294 million in 2018-19. But the figure slumped to around Rs 190 million during the last fiscal year due to the pandemic. In 2018-19, the Chitwan park welcomed a record number of 187,109 tourists.
“Tourist arrivals and income generation are not only essential for wildlife conservation and park management, but also for the upliftment of community forests and their activities,” said Baral. “Likewise, hoteliers and other tourism entrepreneurs also rely on tourists.”
Nepal’s tourism sector, devastated by months of lockdown, is counting on the upcoming autumn season and domestic tourists. While the arrival of foreign tourists is to open only from October 17, the movement of domestic tourists has come as a sign of hope.
Protected areas, which remain a major tourist destination for both outsiders and domestic tourists, expect a surge in visitors in the upcoming season. As per government records, over 60 percent of total tourists coming to Nepal visit a protected area of the country.
In 2018, when the country welcomed a record 1.1 million tourists, over 700,000 had visited the protected parks, according to Acharya.
But the initial signs have not been encouraging. Chitwan National Park, which opened on Wednesday, has not seen a single visitor until now.
“No tourist has entered the park since we opened,” said Baral. “We opened to send out a message. We aren’t expecting an instant surge in people visiting the parks as Covid-19 concerns still persist, and people haven’t been able to come out of their homes freely.”
During 2018-19, all these protected areas generated around Rs765 million as revenues from various tourism activities. In the same period, a total of 706,148 tourists, including foreigner and domestic, visited the country’s protected areas.
Last fiscal year, the revenues from all these parks have recorded a drop-down to around Rs400 million, according to Acharya, who further added, there has been nominal arrival of tourists since parks reopened.
“The tourism season has already begun. Foreign tourists start with visa processing by this time for visiting during September-October followed by a slump in November-December. It picks up again in February-March,” said Acharya. “But this year, the number is likely to be lower than in the previous years.”