In October, Nepal welcomed 23,284 tourists–the highest monthly arrivals since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Nepal. There are signs that the tourism sector is slowly reviving. Meanwhile, the government has already resumed on-arrival visas for foreign nationals as Covid-19 is slowly subsiding. But how is our mountaineering sector, a key pillar of our tourism industry, faring? Nepal Live Today caught up with Santabir Lama, who is the president of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). Excerpts:
How is the tourism sector of Nepal reviving after Covid-19?
As the government could not address the Covid-19 Crisis Management Center’s (CCMC) advice on time, the flow of tourists was not as expected in the Autumn season. However, the number is slowly increasing in recent times.
If the government is serious, it needs to rapidly complete the vaccination campaign across the country, and especially in the touristic areas. The NMA has also requested the government to quickly inoculate those involved in the tourism sector.
Tourist arrivals will increase only if they feel safe in Nepal. Vaccination is particularly important because those in the tourism industry and the tourists who come to Nepal must feel safe first of all, especially when people are talking about the possibility of the third wave of Covid-19. If the third wave comes, let’s hope it never will, then the tourism sector, which is slowly reviving now, will again face a major setback. Therefore, the government authorities should from now on be focused on curbing the possible threat of the third wave so as to ensure that the tourism sector does not have to suffer again.
Globally, countries have been promoting tourism by bringing in attractive packages, such as exemption on visa fees, for tourists. Where does Nepal stand in such efforts?
Honestly speaking, we are lagging far behind in tourism promotion. The government of India, for example, has already managed to revive its tourism sector, but our government has not done much to revive the sector. The government would have been able to revive the tourism sector if it had come up with a proper plan and executed it. Tourism holds the highest potential for reviving our economy. But the government has not been able to promote it. It will neither boost our economy nor send a good message to the global community. If the government fails to prioritize the tourism sector we will face a lot of difficult times in the days to come.
Of late, a number of foreign tourists seem to be showing an interest in mountain tourism. What is the actual status?
There is no big difference as of now. Although all the trekking companies have the authority to conduct expeditions, the mountaineering scene hasn’t seen much progress. More than 2,000 licenses are registered for expeditions but out of total companies, less than 5 percent run expeditions. Among many other various reasons, the lack of proper plans and policies has hugely affected the mountaineering sector of Nepal.
The government would have been able to revive the tourism sector and we would be in a better situation today if it had come up with a proper plan and executed it.
What specific problems are Nepal’s tourism sector facing? How long, do you think, will it take for the industry to completely revive?
All those associated with the tourism sector suffered and faced a huge loss during the pandemic. The government did not provide any subsidy to the tourism entrepreneurs, not even loans at minimum interest rates. As a result, many companies and hotels had to close down. Hotels have incurred a heavy loss as they had invested a huge amount of money in the sector as the country was celebrating the Visit Nepal Year 2020 Campaign.
I think it will take at least five years for the tourism sector to completely revive, if everything goes well. As many hotels have been closed permanently, especially in rural areas, tourists in Nepal may face difficulties in accommodation. In this regard, the government should work on formulating plans and policies to revive those closed hotels. They can provide subsidies or loans at minimum interest rates to hotel owners. Likewise, the government should also think of those who invested in targeting Visit Nepal 2020. We cannot expect a huge number of foreigners to come to Nepal at the moment because they have also suffered from the pandemic. They have also become jobless, and many potential tourists are out of money.
How many mountains are open for mountaineers at the moment?
There are thousands of peaks that can be climbed in Nepal. There are also many unclimbed mountains that require the promotion in the international markets to attract mountaineers.
Sadly, the government hasn’t done anything remarkable for the promotion of mountains. We have knocked the government’s door several times and suggested many ideas for the promotion of those unclimbed mountains. They don’t seem to pay any heed.
Even those mountains which have been opened for climbing are yet to be promoted. As Nepal holds a huge potential, and many mountains are unclimbed, we have asked the government to authorize the NMA to manage those peaks. There has been no positive response to this proposal either.
The climbers are still not serious about making the mountains garbage-free. They tend to litter the mountains as they climb them.
The government has been giving permits to just about anyone to climb Mt Everest– the tallest peak in the world. I think there should be a provision that mountaineers need to climb two 8,000 meters tall mountains before giving them the permit for Mt Everest. If this is done, other mountains will also get climbers, and the government can collect more revenue. Also, only experienced climbers will get access to the tallest mountain in the world.
Currently, the association has been allowed to manage 27 small peaks known as ‘trekking peaks’ that are 5,587 to 6,654 meters tall.
Waste management has remained a big issue in Nepal’s mountains. How are we managing wastes in the mountains?
The climbers are still not serious about making the mountains garbage-free. They tend to litter the mountains as they climb them. If the climbers only bring back the wastes they create it wouldn’t even be necessary to clean up the mountains. There is also a rule that the climbers should return by bringing some amount of garbage, but they do not follow this rule. The negligence and absence of the government’s liaison officer in basecamp is also a reason that the garbage in mountains is not being managed. Except for a few, none of the liaison officers tend to fulfill their responsibilities. This has to be corrected.