February 25: Mountaineers and tourists coming to Nepal have started diverting to other destinations as the health standards implemented by the government have not been revised even after a year. After the tourists started changing their destinations, Nepali tour and travel operators have started panicking.
An example of tourists changing their destination is climbing Mount K2 in Pakistan, where expedition used to take place only during summer season. Now, after Pakistan government implemented a lax policy on tourist entry, tourists have started visiting the mountain even in the spring and autumn season.
Entrepreneurs involved in mountaineering and trekking business say that tourists are discouraged from coming to Nepal as there is a provision of quarantine for at least 10 days.
Rishi Bhandari, managing director of Satori Adventures Pvt Ltd, says that the problem has aggravated due to the separate policies of the government agencies, immigration department and diplomatic missions. “The Ministry of Health and Population and the Department of Immigration says there should be at least 10 days of quarantine,” says Bhandari, adding, “Separate rules of the Ministry of Tourism and diplomatic missions have created more confusion.”
The average stay of foreigners in Nepal is seven to 10 days. Commenting on the fact that tourists do not come to Nepal just to stay in quarantine, Bhandari said, “Prior to this, there has not been a situation in Pakistan to go for mountaineering in winter. However, tourists are more likely to be diverted there due to easy entrance.”
Even though the tourist arrival is not as good as before, American, Indian and Chinese tourists are preparing to climb mountains like Mount Everest, Annapurna, Lhotse and Makalu. Bhandari said that 200 to 300 climbers are expected to climb Mt. Everest alone.
Bhandari said that the problem has arisen as no steps have been taken to facilitate tourist arrival in a new and alternative way.
Likewise, Navin Trital, managing director of Expedition Himalaya Pvt Ltd, also said that it has not been possible to attract tourists even in the case of 'new normal' due to the lack of cooperation from the government. "Currently, countries like Europe, Australia and New Zealand have imposed travel bans," he said, “On the other hand, the government has not been able to think properly about attracting tourists from India and China, Nepal's major tourism markets, and there is no clear policy as well.”
According to him, tourists coming to Nepal are diverted to Dubai, the Maldives and other countries. Stating that tourists will go to the country which opens first, he claimed that even the tourists who want to come are discouraged by the quarantine provision. However, he said that the possibility of tourists coming for mountaineering is still there.
Trital said that there are good signs in mountaineering now as bookings are being made in some tour and travel companies. "The main problem now is quarantine. If it is removed, foreigners will visit Nepal," he said. Tour and travel operators say that the provision of staying in quarantine for 7 to 10 days should be removed if possible or limited to five days and allow them to travel.
However, spokesperson of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Taranath Adhikari says that the quarantine provision is not likely to be removed immediately. Although the concept of the ministry is to loosen the quarantine system, he said that there is a situation of ‘wait and see’ as new strain of Covid-19 has been found in various countries and there is still travel ban in countries where vaccines against Covid-19 are not available.
The tourism related businessmen have suggested that the health standards should be amended and those who have been vaccinated should be allowed to travel freely.