Put Focus on Tourism Recovery

Nepal has started tourism recovery works in earnest. The country threw open doors of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley, which suffered serious damage in the earthquake of April 25, for guided tours on June 15. Government officials believe the re-opening of heritage sites will disseminate a strong message that tourism may be down in Nepal, but it is definitely not out and that it will rebound soon.
The earthquake of April 25 and subsequent aftershocks have claimed more than 8,000 lives, damaged more than 300,000 buildings, including centuries-old historical monuments, injured thousands of people, and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Many people are still struggling to adjust to life after the earthquake as they do not have proper shelter and food. Humanitarian assistances are coming from all over the world. But it is very difficult to provide relief in geographically challenged remote areas in Nepal where one needs to walk for days to reach the nearest road network.
Apart from loss of life and property, this earthquake will make significant impact on our national economy. Nepali economy, which is heavily dependent on exports and tourism for foreign exchange, is expected to take a severe beating.
But things aren’t as worse as western media are portraying. Only 14 of 75 districts of Nepal have suffered damage from the earthquake. Similarly, all our airports are in operation and so are the highways and major road networks. Almost all hotels in Kathmandu are safe and have already resumed operation. No damage has been reported in hotels in other tourist destinations like Pokhara, Chitwan, Lumbini and Bardiya. Similarly, only two trekking routes in the country – Langtang and Manaslu – have suffered damage. Other routes are safe for trekkers. Telecommunications services like telephone, mobile phones and Internet did not suffer any outage at all. Hospitals and clinics in most of the areas are safe and so are the banks and financial institutions. Daily life in Kathmandu Valley and other affected areas are gradually starting to return to normalcy.
The government has already taken initiatives for bringing tourism industry back to normalcy. It, together, with private sector has formed a Tourism Recovery Committee (TRC) as per the advice of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). The committee is assessing tourist destinations, tourism infrastructures and trekking trails. The government will start rebuilding works once assessment report is ready. Efforts are underway to resume normal tourism activities from the next tourism season which begins in September.
The biggest hurdle that Nepali tourism sector will face as it recovers from the disaster will be the exaggeration of the situation here by international media outlets. PATA Vice Chairman Andrew Jones was also worried about the situation about Nepal before landing here. “The international media reports showed that everything had been destroyed. But when I arrived here, it was much better than I had anticipated. To be honest, I didn’t have any problems visiting the country. No dangers at all,” he said.
Jones was in Nepal right after the earthquake to help Nepal prepare tourism recovery plans.
To clear negative publicity, Nepal must devise effective marketing and promotion strategy. We should select the effective medium, prepare strong and touching message about Nepal and disseminate them in our major tourist generating market. As people from around the world are eager to help Nepal in this period of crisis, should tell them that the best way to help Nepal is to visit the country and support its economy. For tourists, it will be a vacation with a cause.
Another hurdle that Nepal will face will be the negative travel advisories issued by different tourist generating countries. Negative travel advisories raise insurance premium which ultimately makes Nepal expensive for foreign tourists. But there is nothing to worry about as travel advisories are updated in line with the situation here. If we make our situation stable, countries will definitely change their travel advisories to Nepal. Similarly, if we become successful in convincing embassies here that Nepal is safe for tourists, they will update their travel advisories accordingly.
The third thing that Nepal should do is encourage high-profit visits, say of celebrities and world leaders. As celebrities are world leaders and are accompanied by representatives from big media, it will give our tourism industry big leverage. We have already seen visits of Hollywood superstars like Jackie Chan, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Yeoh who came to Nepal for relief works. We should encourage more such visits. Engagement of celebrities will help a lot in tourism promotion. Realizing the fact, the government, on the occasion of International Sagarmatha Day, appointed Jamling Norgay Sherpa, Peter Hillary and Tashi Tenzing Sherpa, among others, as goodwill ambassadors to promote mountain tourism. Jamling is the son of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, who, together with Sir Edmund Hilary, is the first person to reach the summit of Mt Everest. Similarly, Peter is Sir Edmund’s son, while Tashi is the grandson of Tenzing Norgay.
The other thing that Nepal should do is reconstruction of damaged infrastructures. It will take many years to rebuild cultural monuments of Kathmandu Valley which lay in ruins. The government should preserve artifact which lie in the rubbles and devise a master plan for their reconstruction. It should be careful about retaining cultural, historical and archaeological essence while rebuilding. Similarly, it should repair trekking trails but only after carrying out detailed study. Quake-shaken mountain areas are very fragile and prone to disasters. Blocked trails should be opened, but with utmost care.
Private sector, who sell tourism products and services, also have greater role to play. They should make sure that tourist activities are not stopped. For that, they should include some value addition to their products and services to encourage tourists to come here. Also, they should try to take tourists to newly opened areas in eastern region and mid and far western regions which have not suffered any damaged.
As Nepal embarks on rebuilding phase, it needs international tourists like never before. If they want to help Nepal, the best thing to do is come to Nepal on a vacation.

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