Amidst an uncertainty over the fate of the COVID-hit tourism in Nepal, the government has put forward a comprehensive tourism action plan aiming at reviving this vital constituent of the national economy. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has lately prepared the 73-point ‘Nepal Tourism Sector Resurgence Action Plan-2079’. With the implementation of this plan, the nation’s ailing tourism is expected to get a boost. Realising the fact that only a short-term revival plan alone may not be enough to rejuvenate this multidimensional industry, the government is also planning to announce the Nepal Visit Decade (2023-33) to take the nation’s tourism industry to newer heights.
The country has been passing through a host of problems ranging from liquidity crisis, widening trade deficit, unemployment to the depletion of the foreign exchange reserves. Tourism revival could be of immense help for coping with these challenges because it contributes to generating foreign exchange and jobs. It will also help create numerous other livelihood opportunities. It directly or indirectly assists diverse other sectors such as handicraft, horticulture, livestock farming, poultry farming and beekeeping, among others. Tourism also plays a catalytic role in the conservation of historical sites, and cultural and natural heritages.
Nepal is an exotic tourist destination because of her unrivalled scenic beauty and cultural diversity. But following the devastating 2015 earthquake, the nation’s tourism had gone through tumultuous times for some years. The tourism industry started growing significantly in 2018 when the nation hosted about 1.17 million foreign tourists. The number continued to increase to 1.19 million in 2019. The contribution of tourism to the gross domestic product (GDP) also kept on increasing with the constant rise in tourist arrivals. Its contribution to GDP reached about 7.9 per cent in those favourable years.
Inspired by the steady progress in tourism activities, the government launched the Visit Nepal Year in 2020 with an ambitious target of welcoming two million international tourists by that year. But unfortunately, the government had to postpone the national tourism campaign owing to the outbreak of COVID-19. The country was able to receive only 230,085 foreign visitors in 2020. With the continuation of the pandemic, tourist arrivals into the country fell further to 150,962 in 2021, leading to a significant decrease in foreign currency earnings.
Bearing in mind the importance of tourism, the government seems to be quite serious about reviving this sector. When Jeevan Ram Shrestha assumed office as the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, he took the initiative to form a taskforce to prepare the tourism action plan. As outlined in the plan, the government will focus on making amendments to the various policies and laws related to tourism. In line with the recommendation made by the taskforce, the government is going to revise Tourism Policy 2065, Aviation Policy 2063, National Culture Policy 2067, Tourism Act 2035, Copyright Act 2059, and Mountaineering Expedition Regulations 2059 to boost the ailing tourism industry.
It is worth mentioning that the action plan has entrusted the relevant authorities and other stakeholders with responsibilities of dealing with different issues and problems within a certain timeframe. Another important scheme included in the action plan is that all the major tourism sites will remain cleaned up within a month. The ministry itself is going to coordinate with different organisations to materialise this plan. No such an endeavour was made in the past. As soon as this plan is implemented, the tourism sites are sure to get the much-needed refurbishment. They are also expected to help portray the nation’s destination image in a more positive light internationally. Besides, government will encourage foreign filming groups and artistes to shoot films in Nepal. This could contribute towards promoting the country abroad. The action plan also includes provisions for identifying and developing more tourist destinations, making cooperation and collaboration with various agencies and organisations for tourism development.
Tourism had suffered an unprecedented setback globally with the outbreak of the pandemic in late December 2019. With the spread of the pandemic rapidly and subsequent measures taken to contain the deadly viral disease, global tourism came to a complete halt. Even the topmost tourist destinations around the world were left high and dry because of travel bans and other restrictions. Many nations lost a large chunk of their tourism receipts which led to cuts of millions of jobs worldwide.
In Nepal, too, lots of tourism entrepreneurs have been displaced following the emergence of COVID-19. As part of its relief measure to support the faltering tourism sector, the government extended some supports and incentives to the industry. But they were just a peanuts because of the lingering crisis. The frequent reappearance of the contagion caused damage to this fragile industry. However, some signs of improvement have been seen since the onset of 2022. The country has recorded a gradual revival in international tourist arrivals. The mobility of domestic travellers has also been increasing steadily. But given the substantial investments made in the hospitality industry, the existing tourist arrivals are inadequate to sustain this sector.
Despite this, the increased movement of tourists has brought a lot of cheers to tourism entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders. They have high hopes that the situation will be more encouraging in the coming days for the tourism industry to grow further. But the fresh resurgence of the various sub-variants of Omicron has started raising the alarm on the prospects of tourism recovery. The country now records around 400-700 new COVID infections daily. If the infections keep increasing, the government may be forced to re-impose some curbs to cope with the challenging situation. Such measures could be detrimental to the slowly reviving tourism. However, the situation may not be worsened in the near future as earlier because most of people have been vaccinated against the pandemic. The government has even launched immunisation for children aged between 5 and 18.
(The author is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)