Forget earthquake, let’s move on

Why are we losing our efforts in convincing people for something they don’t even doubt about? We should be focusing more on the safety and security of tourists rather than announcing ‘Nepal is safe’.

It has already been more than a year since the devastating earthquake hit Nepal. Instead of fast rebuilding, we have been talking about earthquake again and again. It was a natural disaster and it’s over now. Why are we losing our efforts in convincing people for something they don’t even doubt about? We should be focusing more on the safety and security of tourists rather than announcing ‘Nepal is safe’.

Now when the government has announced 2018 as Visit Nepal Year, tourism stakeholders should focus more on rebuilding than developing a website for the revival and wasting their time. Being a responsible body for the tourism promotion, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) should update themselves with new and innovative campaigns rather than attending tourism fairs in the same traditional way.

Whenever there has been crisis in tourism, private sector has enthusiastically contributed for the recovery. But the government has failed to work in tandem with the private sector. Announcement alone will not bring any change. To bring tourists, we should rebuild first, identify new products, make attractive packages and sell them effectively in the international market.

If we look at arrival figures of August, the number of rescue workers and volunteers counted, we recovered in August itself – three months after the earthquake. According to the Department of Immigration, tourist arrival was 38,616 in January and 38,606 in August 2015. The country welcomed 79,187 foreign tourists in March – one month before the earthquake. But the number fell to 17,569 in May – one month after the earthquake. It was 22967 in July.

Just as the tourism industry was picking up, it went through fuel shortage resulting from India’s blockade against. Tourist arrivals dropped 26.51 percent to 199,405 during the following four-month period (September-December). That was Nepal’s peak tourist season and this devastated the tourism industry. Many travel agencies even urged their clients to defer their Nepal trip due to fuel crisis.

Tourism industry of Nepal got another big jolt on February 2016. Nepal, which was already in the black list of European Union Air Safety Committee, saw two fatal air crashes within three days. A Twin Otter of Tara Airways crashed at Myagdi, killing 23 people on board. Two days later, a single engine aircraft of Air Kastamandap Air crashed in western Nepal, killing pilot and the co pilot.

On March 9 to 13, a team of Nepali delegates attended 50th year of ITB Berlin. According to them, people were less concerned about earthquake. They were more concerned about the blockade and the air crashes. Based on the response our representative got in ITB and other international events, we can assume that people were forgetting the earthquake slowly.

Now, the question arises, is it still necessary to talk about earthquake? From the trend of tourist arrival, it is clear that it is not because of earthquake that we are not receiving sufficient tourists. It is because of the uncertainty about safety and security.

Of course earthquake badly affected the tourism sector. Many tour companies closed their business because of the crisis but the earthquake alone was not the reason for slow recovery. Blockade and air crashes compounded our woes. People would have accepted the earthquake as a natural disaster but these man-made crisis were unacceptable. Therefore rather than focusing on earthquake, we should focus on product development, infrastructure development and look into safety and security of tourists for better service delivery.

Commenting on the issue, Shikhar Pandey, Assistant General Manager of Himalayan Expeditions, says, “These days news are shifted and forgotten very fast. Why should we remind the earthquake that has already been forgotten? It’s senseless to talk about earthquake now when the business is already normal. World outside Nepal is very fast, if disaster like this had happened in their country, they would have finished the rebuilding within 2 -3 months.”

“Unfortunately nothing has been done in Nepal even though it has already been more than one years since the earthquake. Now we need to focus more on infrastructure development. At least we should have something new to highlight in the global market,” added pandey.

Similarly, Rajan Simkhada, President of Earthbound Expeditions, said the people he met at international travel fairs did not seem to be much concerned about the earthquake. “They are convinced that Nepal is safe. Many people have travelled to Nepal after the earthquake and  they even have written reviews. I don’t think we should be saying ‘Nepal is safe’. Rather we should focus on rebuilding and infrastructure development,” Simkhada said. “My business was down 50 percent because of the earthquake. It started picking up from September itself. He also said that the government and the NTB should start preparation for 2018 immediately. “Highways need to be upgraded and proper toilets need to be built. Similarly, airport needs to be upgraded and luggage handling and visa processing process should be sped up,” Simkhada said, adding, “We should get more international airlines flying there. We need to focus on marketing and promotion and product diversification.”

Rabi Thapa, CEO of Sacred Summits, agreed with Simkhada. “Though our business was affected, but we were recovering slowly. Blockade hampered our recovery as we did not have fuel. Restaurants were downsizing menu,” he said, adding, “Earthquake was not the main issue. Earthquake is a natural disaster. Nobody can be certain about it. People are not scared of earthquake, but they are concerned about their safety. ”

C N Pandey, Vice President of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), said major damage was done by the blockade not the earthquake. “I attended few travel fairs last year. Most of the queries in those fairs were about the blockade and not the earthquake,” he said, suggesting Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) to focus more on marketing and promotion ahead of 2018.

Dhruba Khanal, Managing Director of AME Treks said it was depressing to see downfall in business because of the earthquake. “But we slowly started recovering. We also started getting enquiries. Now I think it is useless to talk about earthquake any further,” he added.

Tsering D. Sherpa, Managing Director of Incredible Himalayan Sherpa, said the tourism industry has recovered much after the earthquake. “Our bookings were cancelled, but now we are getting inquiries. We have started getting bookings. We suffered a lot from negative portrayal of Nepal by leading media outlets. Now we should focus more on clearing such false impression about Nepal,” added Sherpa.

What Pokhara has to say?

Uday Bhattarai, Manager, Nepal Tourism Board, Pokhara
I think earthquake and the blockade affected our industry. Air crashes are common all over the world. People forget about it soon. Media hype at the time of earthquake made a very negative impact our industry. Nevertheless, we are recovering slowly. The government has announced 2018 as Visit Nepal Year and this year we are celebrating Ghumphir Barsa. These are certainly good efforts for reviving tourism.

Basanta Sharma, Manager, Oxygen Lounge Bar and Resturant
Our industry was battered by series of unfortunate incidents. First it was the earthquake, followed by the blockade and twin air crash. We used to get lot of Chinese tourists even during off season in the past. Pokhara is seeing very few Chinese tourists this year. But our friendly nature will attract tourists very soon. Incidents like kidnaps and robbery are very rare in Nepal. Nepal is a safe destination. Once people start coming here, they will themselves spread message that Nepal is safe.

Mohan Subedi, Operation Manager, Himalayan Monk Travel and Treks
Though earthquake made many negative impacts on tourism, one positive thing is that it introduced Nepal to those people who had never heard about this country. It was the blockade that affected us more. It stopped supply of daily needs and that discouraged tourists from visiting this country.

Thaneshwor Baral, Director, Shrijana Handicraft
Blockade was more severe than the air crashes and earthquake. Though our industry has been affected by these untoward incidents, NTB has not been doing enough to build our destination image. Similarly, the government should focus more on infrastructure development. NTB should make sure that participation in international travel fairs is not mere ritual, but result-oriented.

Nawaraj Adhikari, Managing Director, Sky Mart Travel and Tours
Our business is down 30 percent after the earthquake. Nepal suffered a lot due to negative media coverage of the earthquake. Hence, we need to put more efforts to tell the world that Nepal is safe. NTB should disseminate the message all over the world that all destinations and trekking routes are safe. Similarly, Lumbini hasn’t got much emphasis. The government and NTB should put more emphasis on promotion of Lumbini as well.

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