The Post-Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) report prepared by National Planning Commission reveals tourism to be the worst-hit sector by April 25 quake with an economic loss of Rs 81.24 billion.
As a part of restoration strategy, on June 15 Nepal opened its damaged UNESCO World Heritage sites highlighting the message, “Nepal is safe and open for tourists”. Several other measures were taken by private tourism entrepreneurs as well to assist this government step and speed up the restoration process.
The joint effort has even started to bring positive results. Tourism was gradually reviving as the number of tourists visiting Nepal was taking pace. But the progress could not continue longer. Once again it has been badly hit by ongoing continuous strikes and curfews in various parts of the country.
Bad news travels fast. Now, in this era of social network media like facebook and twitter, it travels even faster. News of havoc due to disaster and prevailing political turmoil by now has travelled every corners of this world. As a result, those tourists who were in mood of visiting Nepal have changed their travel plan by choosing another country as destination to spend their holidays. Those who have already booked hotel rooms are now cancelling.
Actually, tourism is more about experiences and less about consumption. Therefore, tourists do not want to travel in a place where they have to risk their life and carry back horrible travelling experience to their home.
Ongoing political uncertainty has also poured cold water on the efforts made and new plan to revive tourism. Local entrepreneurs in Pokhara had formed Pokhara Tourism Revival Committee (PTRC) and were launching various promotional activities. But the present political deadlock has bogged them down.
PTRC, Hotel Association and Nepal Tourism Board Pokhara were jointly preparing to launch a five-day promotional campaign in different cities of India from August 25. This too could not happen. They were forced to cancel their program at the last hour after violent clash that resulted killing of eight police personnel in Tikapur, Kailali, just a few days ago of their scheduled date.
In Pokhara tourism entrepreneurs claim to have invested around Rs 60 billion in tourism sector in Pokhara and adjoining areas so far. Before April quake, they had good business as every year around seven lakhs tourists, both domestic and international, used to visit Pokhara. However, now they are feeling hard to carry out their tourism business.
September, October and November are the months when tourists used to arrive in droves every year in Pokhara. The widespread news of prevailing chaos in Nepal clearly signals that this year, it is unlikely to happen so. The sector is sure to see huge decline in tourist arrivals.
Of course it is the politicians who are largely to be blamed for this pathetic state of tourism sector and nation. They have failed to assure the people and have instead fuelled social, political, economical and psychological insecurity among them. This in turn has resulted in perennial state of turmoil which is the biggest deterrent to growth in tourism.
Now it’s high time for the government to realize its fault. Heed the clear message that prolonged political instability not only hits hard to tourism sector but to entire economy and overall growth of country. Therefore, with no delay the government should settle the yawning rift among them through dialogue and give relieve the country from present stalemate.
Besides this, to restore tourism industry in short span of time, the government should provide strong moral and financial support to the Ministry of Tourism, enabling to embark on a marketing restoration program.
Tourism Ministry should accept responsibilities and widen its role. Most of its post-disaster budget should go in repairing and upgrading of tourism infrastructures, especially the damaged UNESCO listed World Heritages sites, monuments and roads.
Travel industry should be encouraged to demonstrate their support by urging their clients to visit Nepal. This can be done by organizing familiarization visits for tour operators and tourism journalists to see Nepal first-hand and pass the message to their clients, listeners, readers and viewers that there are still many tourist destinations in Nepal which are largely untouched by the quake.
As all these strategies are tested ones, no doubt if a serious effort is made by all the concerned stakeholders, within a short span of time once again Nepal can be one of the best tourist destinations of the world. Let’s hope soon that day may come.
(MA in Conflict, Peace & Dev. Studies, TU)