Thursday, 5 August, 2021

Tourism Still In Limbo


Like many other countries, Nepal is also grappling with COVID-19 pandemic for about one and a half years. The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the country's health as well as economic sector. With the outbreak of a more ferocious second wave of the contagion, the country has recorded an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths. As Nepal does not have a better healthcare system, it found itself in a difficult situation in handling the virus.
It needs no mention that the tourism industry has been one of the most affected sectors worldwide following the emergence of COVID-19. With numerous harsh measures, including global travel restrictions and closure of international borders, in place to rein in the virus, the sensitive tourism business has been facing a big setback. Although no widespread study has so far been carried out as to assess the exact economic fallout of the pandemic in the country, it has rendered a large number people jobless. This also led to the loss of the livelihoods of the dependent families.
Many hotels, travel and trekking agencies, transport companies and other enterprises directly or indirectly related to the tourism sector have opted for closure. Thus, the investment worth billions of rupees has also gone down the drain.
However, this year's mountaineering season remained quite encouraging even in such an unfavourable situation. Hundreds of climbers from different countries successfully attempted Sagarmatha and some other peaks. This has helped send a positive message that the mountaineering activities can keep going in Nepal despite such an unprecedented public health emergency. Many mountain guides and other support staff got seasonal jobs and some hotels and lodges located in Kathmandu and the world-famous Khumbu Region had an opportunity to serve tourists.
Prior to the eruption of the second wave of the virus, domestic tourism activities were resuming steadily. This year’s autumn season is round the corner. This is considered as a peak tourist season in Nepal. But the situation is still uncertain. For the last one and a half months, restrictions have been imposed in most parts of the country to contain the pandemic. But an encouraging aspect is that the rates of infections and fatalities across the country have come down significantly. Neighbouring India has also continued to report fewer cases of the contagion over the past some weeks.
Bearing this in mind, the local administration is mulling to relax restrictions gradually. However, risks are still there. Health specialists have warned that number of new infections might go up once the prohibition orders are lifted.
Tourism stakeholders are now in favour of resuming tourism-related activities. The Airline Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN), an umbrella association of domestic carriers, has called on the government to resume domestic flights from June 15. There is no doubt that the airlines have also incurred a huge loss due to the suspension of domestic flights for more than 45 days this time. They had to reel from the same situation last year as well.
The association said that its member airlines are committed to resuming flights by sticking to all the health safety protocols issued by the government. The relevant authorities now need to decide on this issue after holding extensive consultations with tourism entrepreneurs as well as health experts.