The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has set up a taskforce with the view of finding ways to revive the tourism sector which has been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a praiseworthy move in that NTB’s initiative, which has brought veteran tourism entrepreneurs, all major representative organisations and experts under a single umbrella, will aim to rescue tourism businesses that have been devastated by the onslaught of the coronavirus.
However, it would have added efficiency to the taskforce and expanded its scope had it been formed under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. It would also have shown that the government is serious about finding solutions to the existing problems. Nonetheless, the formation of the taskforce has provided some solace to the crisis-stricken industry’s entrepreneurs and raised their hopes that there is at least a body to hear their grievances.
The crisis being faced by a sector like tourism which contributes 3 to 4 percent to Nepal’s GDP annually and remains a major area of foreign currency earning is in fact a serious problem to the country. The loss to the overall tourism industry is already estimated to have reach around Rs 50 billion and counting. Domestic airliners are said to have incurred financial damages amounting to over Rs 16 billion due to the restrictions in air travel. Similarly, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and other tourism businesses are said to have lost billions of rupees. With the main tourist season gone, there was some hope that domestic tourism would increase during the upcoming festive season. But this is also not looking possible due to the surge in Covid-19 cases across the country.
The possibility of a return to normalcy rests on how fast the vaccine is developed and distributed among the people of the world. In this situation, there is need for specific policy arrangements to bring the tourism businesses back from the brink. Many countries have already started to formulate strategies in prediction that the pandemic will continue till mid-2021. It has become urgent to bring programmes to help the tourism businesses survive until the pandemic recedes which will also help in a fast recovery.
It can be expected that the competition among the countries to bring in tourists will increase once the situation starts to normalise. Nepal’s share of the global tourism market will shrink if the government and the private sector fail to devise attractive packages to attract foreign visitors. In a highly competitive environment, it may not be easy for Nepal to continue to sell traditional tourism products that are based on scenic beauty, culture and religion, and high mountain peaks. Therefore, priority should be given to devise new products to attract visitors.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed tourism in different ways. Mass tourism is likely to become a thing of the past as people are avoiding crowded places due to health safety reasons. This has demanded a change in the mindset of both government officials and entrepreneurs in that the success of the tourism industry essentially depends on the number of visitors. As the pandemic has adversely impacted the income of people the world over, ‘backpackers’, the largest tourist group visiting Nepal who generally spend less, may not come here for some time. This can be an opportunity to move towards developing high value and quality tourism. The brute force of the pandemic has brought Nepal’s tourism to a crossroad. A collaborative and holistic approach is necessary to breathe new life into the sector to ensure a better future.