Wednesday, 27 October, 2021

Covid-19 cripples tourism in Pokhara


By Ramesh Poudel

Pokhara, Mar. 21: The hustling and bustling city of Pokhara is now deserted because of the Covid -19 pandemic.
Since Pokhara is a tourist hub, attracting visitors from all over the world, the residents are scared that those visitors might have also brought the coronavirus with them and hence, are not leaving their house. This, coupled with the drop in tourist arrivals, means that lively city is now empty.
There is no one in the streets and hotels. Schools and colleges are closed so the students are returning to their villages. Employees are also starting to leave their offices.
The Royal Palm Resort located at Kundahar -14, Pokhara was recently forced to cancel six major programmes. Its room occupancy is also nearly zero. “We have no guests and no programmes,” Royal Palm’s Manager Raj Shrestha said, adding, “We decided to close the resort for one month because we couldn’t keep the staff in this situation.” The resort has 35 employees.
There are around 700 tourist-worthy hotels in Pokhara. There are 400 hotels registered with the Western Regional Hotel Association (WRHA) alone. The tourism sector of Pokhara holds more than Rs 400 billion in investments and employs more than 17,000 people. But coronavirus has put all this is in peril.
WRHA President Bikal Tulachan said that the pandemic had crippled Pokhara’s tourism industry.
Hotel entrepreneurs are worried that they might have to “lock down” their hotels. They also complained that they can’t find hand sanitizers and thermoguns in the market to check their guests, according to entrepreneur Som Thapa.
Tulachan said that 15 per cent of the hotels would never be able to reopen if the government did not compensate the current loss. “We will need years to recover our losses. Hoteliers will not be able to find their footing after this without the government’s support,” he said.
Along with hotels, other businesses like ultralight flights, paragliding, bungee jumping etc have also shut down because of a lack of tourists. The famous Annapurna Hiking Trail also lies deserted, according to Dharma Adhikari, vice president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN).
Meanwhile, the tourists already in Pokhara have been forced to extend their visa period and stay in Pokhara because their home countries have stopped incoming flights. One such tourist is Cyril Thomas Besanjar who came to Pokhara from Singapore 30 days ago. Having visited Pokhara, Lumbini and Kathmandu, he was preparing to return home when the coronavirus outbreak hit. So now, he has extended his visa from the Immigration Office in Pokhara and is planning to traverse the Annapurna Trail.
Similarly, Ping Kon Pin, a Chinese tourist, has also extended his visa and is planning to go to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).
“Tourists in Pokhara are coming in increasing numbers to extend their visa periods,” Chet Raj Acharya, head of the Immigration Office, Pokhara, informed.
According to official figures, 7,464 tourists had extended their visas in the fiscal year 2018/19. However, this fiscal year, that number has already reached 4,055 until mid-March.
Government officials have been continuously claiming that Nepal has not been impacted by the coronavirus, which is why the tourists already within the country are preferring to stay in the country rather than returning home.
In the meantime, even as the main city of Pokhara empties, the supermarkets and food shops are more crowded than ever. People are hoarding food and groceries for months in anticipation of a prolonged lockdown.