The tourism sector hit hard by the earthquake is ready more than ever to bounce back and recover its lost standing.
--By Achut Puri
Hit hard by the recent earthquake, Nepal’s tourism industry is gradually starting to kick back into gear. By declaring all the world heritage sites open for tourists, the government has given the thumbs up to the industry for it to move forward and make the best of the gained momentum. According to the Department of Archeology (DoA), the heritage sites which were severely damaged by the earthquake, were reopened after removing the rubble and debris and after the vulnerable buildings and monuments were either demolished or repaired. This decision of the government has also conveyed the message that Nepal is safe for tourists. The government has also asked tourists to start planning trips to Nepal.
According to the stakeholders of the tourism industry, the reopening of the world heritage sites is the first chapter in the plan to recover the lost glory of Nepali tourism. “By re-opening the sites for tourists, we want to send a message to the world that Nepal is safe and we expect a positive response from the international community in the renovation and rehabilitation process,” said newly appointed Tourism Minister Kripashur Sherpa.
Opening up the country’s world renowned heritage sites for tourists is the first step in bringing back tourism to its previous levels. For many visitors, the heritage sites in and around the Kathmandu valley remain the first port of call for sight-seeing. They also include the old residential homes and squares around the heritage sites.
“Depending on the condition, tourists visiting the world heritage sites will also be given protective helmets if necessary,” said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, Director General of the DoA. However, entrance fees to these sites will still be applicable, Dahal added. “We have to rebuild these sites within the next few years. So, the entrance fees are necessary.”
Damage and Loss Estimated at Rs 80 billion
The devastation caused by the earthquake to the tourism industry adds up to around Rs 80 billion including the damage and the loss, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The value of historical and archaeological monuments cannot be presented just in financial terms but the money required for reconstruction and renovation can help to estimate the loss suffered. The ministry’s loss estimation comes from statistics collected from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), Department of Archaeology, Nepal Mountaineering Association, among others.
According to DoA, around 600 religious and historically significant heritage sites have been affected by the earthquake. The reconstruction of these archaeological monuments is expected to cost to the tune of Rs 7 billion.
According to the Monasteries Development Committee under the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, the earthquake destroyed 1,500 monasteries across the country. It’s estimated that Rs 12 billion is required for reconstruction. Similarly, according to HAN, 1,559 hotels and motels have been affected by the recent quake, with the damage estimated at around Rs 16 billion.
Another area affected by the earthquake is homestay accommodation for tourists. According to the ministry, 344 homestay units have been affected by the earthquake. Barpak, the epicentre of the earthquake, which isleft in ruins now, too was a model homestay village, highly popular among tourists. This new emerging sector alone has lost more than Rs 1.7 billion.
According to the statistics made public by the ministry, the trekking agencies in the country are looking at a loss of more than Rs 3.5 billion from May to September 2015. The Langtang and Manaslu trekking routes are the hardest hit, according to the ministry. Altogether, nearly 400 kms of trekking routes have been partly or fully damaged by the earthquake. The expected loss is Rs 366 million. The avalanche that swept Mt Everest not only killed 19 mountaineers but also triggered more than Rs 1 billion in losses. All the statistics from the disaster hit areas have been partly collected. A period of five years has been allocated for reconstruction in the tourism sector.
90 Percent Hotels Safe
An inspection by the Department of Tourism and Department of Urban Development and Building Construction has found most of the big hotels to be safe. Only Everest Hotel and Casino Anna were given red stickers, the remaining got green stickers. Around 90% of the hotels seem to be safe, says the tourism department. The small hotels affected by the quake can face operational problems, according to HAN. “If these small hotels are not provided with a relief package at least for the next six months, then they are likely to go under,” said a HAN official.
Similarly, in the other tourism heartland of Nepal, HAN and Regional Hotel Association, Pokhara, are providing 1500 rooms free to revive the sector. Visiting celebrities, national and international players who come to Nepal to help revive the tourism sector will be provided with free rooms, says the group.
The tourism department, tourism board and various private sector-led tourism organizations have also made plans to revive the sector by organising familiarization (FAM) trips for international celebrities and media persons. A Tourism Revival Committee and Tourism Recovery Committee, Pokhara have been formed to organize such trips. In the upcoming high season (September–November), the tourism industry plans to recover 60% of its share and fully recover within a year.