The Covid-19 pandemic’s ruinos effect on the largest economic sector of Nepal i.e. tourism industry is undeniable. Nepal is a country that is rich in natural sceneric beauty and diverse in ancient cultures. It is renowned for its famous himalayas including the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest and the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. And so, Nepal is one of the most popular travel goals in the world. Because to this, it is no surprise that it largely depends on travel and tourism sector for its economy.
For a developing country like Nepal, suspending the growth of such an infrastructure has fatal outcomes. Social distancing and isolation due to Covid-19 has forced people to stay inside their homes. As a result, there has been an end to the movement of people which is the most important factor for tourism industry. But with the coronavirus pandemic affecting the whole planet, there really is no other alternative.
Covid-19 and Travel Bans
The novel corona virus pandemic first spread from Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. The virus was initially reported to WHO in December 2019. Since then, it has spread to almost every nation. The live count of infected cases worldwide is 5,424,154 with 344,338 deaths according to worldometers on 24th May 2020. Thus, nations around the world imposed travel limitations and lockdowns to flatten the curve of the outbreak.
Nepal first imposed the nationwide lockdown starting from March 24, 2020 for a week. However, due to extensions the lockdown is still ongoing as of May 24, 2020. There have been major travel bans and only essential workers such as health professionals and grocery stores are open. The World Health Organization (WHO) enlisting Nepal as a country with high hazard risk resulted in postponing all global flights. Shutdowns of airports and airlines shortly followed after this excluding import and export of essential goods like food and medicine.
As a consequence, this severely affected tourism industry of Nepal as thousands of tourists were unable to visit Nepal. All national and international flights are as of now suspended till May 31st. There might be more extensions on the ongoing lockdown in the future as the cases of corona virus are ever increasing amounting to 402 cases and 2 deaths till date in Nepal.
Visit Nepal 2020 Postponed | Coronavirus Safety
One of the major drawbacks of the Covid-19 imposed lockdown in Nepal is surely the calling off of the “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign. The Ministry of Tourism had produced this campaign to promote tourism in Nepal all around the world. It was officially launched in an inauguration ceremony at Dashrath Rangasala on the first of January. This was the third such campaign by the government of Nepal following the successful campaigns of 1998 and 2011. Nepal had aimed to bring about 2 million tourists this year with much preparations.
The government had split up five distinct sectors to promote Visit Nepal 2020. They were people and heritages, nature and wildlife, culture cities and leisure, religion and pilgrimage and adventure and outdoors. Airports, lodgings, eateries, travel offices and tourist destinations were all maintained and prepared for the arrivals of hundreds of thousands of tourists. The Nepal government provided heavy discounts on trekking and travel packages throughout the country making tourism in Nepal very cheap this year.
The travel industry adds up to a sum of 7.9% of the GDP of Nepal. Assumptions were higher this year due to the campaign. The main goal of the campaign was to raise economic opportunities and employment to one million in tourism sector. But due to the repercussions of the pandemic, it has instead rendered people jobless.
Nationwide Tourism Statistics
Nepal first started actively promoting tourism in the early 1990s. Since then, the arrivals of tourists have drastically increased each year. According to the statistics report by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the number of international tourists arriving in Nepal in 1993 was 293,567 reaching to about 1,173,072 by 2018. And the top five countries our tourists come from are India, China, USA, Uk and Sri Lanka. They make up nearly half of the tourist population. In 2018, the tourism industry of Nepal produced about 240.7 billion rupees and funded more than 1.05 million jobs.
According to the department of Immigration Nepal, tourist arrivals did slightly decline in 2019 compared to previous years.
In 2020 however, despite the promotion of Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, Nepal witnessed a 2% drop in tourist arrivals rate in January according to the NTB (Nepal Tourism Board). Then the number of tourists dropped heavily as Covid-19 started to spread all over the world. The top countries that our tourists came from in 2020 were India, China, USA, Myanmar and Thailand.
Below is the global overview. Most tourists in 2020 were the residents of SAARC countries. And the least were from the Oceania region according to January month report.
Since the nationwide lockdown, there have been no tourist arrivals in the country.
Tourist destinations and activities influenced by Covid-19
Tourists have been visiting Nepal every year for multiple purposes. Most include simple holiday pleasures, trekking and mountaineering, business, pilgrimage or other. But due to Covid-19, we were unable to attract tourists this year after the month of February.
The most popular tourism destinations and activities are:
1. Adventure Tourism:
- Mountaineering– The Nepal Himalayas contains 8 of the highest peaks above 8000 km in the world. Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world is also located in Solukhumbu district of Nepal. A total of 13% of total tourist population visit here to see the wonderful mountains of Nepal. Famous activities include mountain climbing, mountain biking and mountain flights. These activities provided job opportunities to thousands of local public as tourist guides. They used the revenue earned from these activities. Whereas now, with no tourists around, people have no means of earning.
- Bungee jumping– The ultimate bungee jumping area in Nepal is none other than Bhote Koshi from a 166 m wide suspension bridge. There are many other places in Nepal which provide bungee jumping facilities from high hilltops. These activities are what drives tourists to those areas. They are the main attractions of such places and the only reason why business flourish in those areas. Without the movement of people, local businesses are suffering greatly in the present.
- Rock climbing– Nagarjun Forest Reserve, Hattiban, Bimal Nagar, Nagarkot and Namche Bazaar are the best places to go rock climbing in Nepal. This is the most famous tourist activity in these places. Travel industries provide various tourist packages including these destinations for such activities.
- Paragliding and skydiving– Paragliding is the major eye-catcher activity of tourists who visit Pokhara. Similarly, skydiving is an exceptional activity near the Khumbu region, next to Mt. Everest. Tourists frequently visit these places multiple times for these activities. This helps improve the economy of such areas significantly. Banning of such sports due to Covid-19 is a major problem.
- Rafting, canyoning and boating– Rafting companies in Nepal have allowed 16 rivers to operate rafting. International as well as national tourists participate in such aquatic activities. These truly showcased Nepal as a country that is rich in natural water reserves and resources. There have been no revenues from these activities since Covid-19 spread around the world.
- Hiking and trekking– Around 187,692 tourists visited Nepal in 2018 for mountaineering and trekking purpose according to government statistics. The most popular treks in Nepal include Ghorepani Poonhill trek, Mardi Himal trek, langtang trek and many more. Thousands of trekking guides and local businesses lost their jobs and market due to travel restrictions to these areas.
2. Religious and Cultural Heritage Sites:
Nepal is rich in culture and religion. It invites tourists from many religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam etc. It houses famous pilgrimage sites such as Kathmandu, Lumbini, Swargadwari, Lake Gosai kunda, Pathibhara, Manakamana etc. A total of 70.3% of total tourists visited these pilgrimage sites last year. Nepal is a country of temples and here are some of the most popular temples that attract tourists:
- Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu
- Changu Narayan Temple, Bhaktapur
- Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu
- Guhyeshwari Temple, Kathmandu
- Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu
- Manakamana Temple, Gorkha district
- Janaki Mandir, Janakpur etc.
The temples which are usually full to the brim with the bustle of animals and humans alike, now remains in empty silence. A lot of animals like monkeys, squirrels etc residing in these temples are used to being fed by tourists. But now as there are no more tourists, these animals have little to no nutrition and are dying of hunger. However, wildlife agencies of Nepal have been contributing as much as they can for these creatures.
Nepal also contains 4 of the UNESCO world heritage sites according to wikipedia. Museums with rich archaeological, historical and artistic importance also draw lots of tourists to Nepal. The world heritage sites are:
- Sagarmatha National Park
- Kathmandu Valley
- Chitwan National Park
- Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha
Due to Covid-19, there has been no tourist movement to these places. Tons of tourists visit Lumbini in the month of May for Buddha Purnima as well. But this year due to lockdowns, there has been no tourist movement in these areas. Tourism sector heavily depends on cultural and religious sites for its revenue. And so, this has considerably affected Nepal’s economy.
3. Wildness and Natural Vegetation:
- Jungle safari– The most famous wildlife tourism activity is jungle safari. These can be on foot and on vehicles. Tourists visit Nepal from all over the world to see the wondrous plants, animals and birds living in the jungles. They come to experience the wild nature away from their monotonous city lives. The revenues earned from these activities partaken by the tourists help serve the economy of the local public and the country’s as a whole. Now due to lack of tourists, families and communities are suffering from severe economic crisis.
- National parks and wildlife reserves– Nepal houses some of the most rare birds and animals found in the world. There are world famous conservation sites in Nepal housing these creatures. Lots of investors in such conservation sites came as tourists first. The rare Asiatic elephants capture the sight of thousands of tourists every year. And thus, elephant riding is also one of the most exciting activities to partake in Lumbini. The local caretakers of the animals are able to take care of those animals and their families mostly through revenues earned by such rides. But due to Covid-19, there aren’t any tourists available to spend money on such rides. Thus, this affects the economy to a great extent. Also countless people working in the animal conservation sites and travel guides to these venues are out of jobs. Some of the rare creatures that draw tourists to Nepal are:
- Clouded leopards
- Red pandas
- One-horned rhinoceros
- Bengal tigers
- Asiatic elephants
- Giant Hornbills
- Asiatic Rock pythons
The national parks and wildlife reservations housing these exquisite animals are:
- Annapurna Conservation Area
- Chitwan National Park
- Shey Phoksundo National Park
- Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve
- Makalu Barun National Park
- Sagarmatha National Park
- Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
- Langtang National Park
- Rara National Park
Plants and animal research is a major factor for bringing tourists to Nepal. According to breakfreeadventures, a total of 6500 known species of trees, shrubs and flowers are reportedly found in Nepal. Nepal is also rich in rare medicinal herbs that are unlike any other found in other places of the world like cordyceps (yarsagumba), himalayan yew, panch aule, spikenard and golden michelia. opportunities. Many international pharmaceutical companies invest in Nepali herbs for medicine research.
Nepal also boasts of containing equally rare plant and animal life of the globe. Nepal has more than 185 species of mammals and 71 species of reptiles. And 50 species of amphibians and 886 species of birds are found. Sivapithecus or commonly known as Ramapithecus is a genus of extinct apes dated from 12.2 million years ago. The fossil remains of these creatures have been found in the banks of Tinau river flowing from the Siwalik hills in Nepal. Animal researchers from countless nations all around the world come to visit and conduct research on this site. But due to the travel limitations and lockdowns, tourists have been unable to visit Nepal during this year. Potential researchers and research companies who could invest in Nepal’s natural treasures have been lost.
The largest economic sector of Nepal is agriculture. Thus, research related to agriculture is also very favourable in Nepal. As Nepal contains fertile soils in the Terai region of Nepal, it is used to conduct agriculture research. Agriculture covers about 31.7% of Nepal’s GDP and is the largest sector promoting the economic growth of our country. Thus, any potential researchers that would have visited Nepal couldn’t visit this year and so we lose great opportunities.
Nepal is a third world developing country. It constantly needs help from private, governmental or international sector to prosper. And it turn, we help international businesses succeed in our country. They might even get better market here in Nepal, as they would have to deal with less or negligible competitions. Foreign Investments and taxation and trade make up a large amount of Nepal’s economy. But due to Covid-19, we have lost many potential tourists who could be prospective business clients that would help our trade and business sector.
Nepali handicrafts business is also largely benefitted by the visits of tourists in the country. There are mainly two types of handicrafts made in Nepal- textile and non-textile. Some of the most popular nepali handicrafts that draw tourists are modern painting, pashmina, leather products, decorative items, dolls & puppets, crazy hats, bead crafts etc. The tourists who are largely the customers of such products are unavailable now and so huge numbers of local businesses are suffering.
The tourism industry of Nepal has been struggling acutely due to the ban on these activities and movement of people to these tourist destinations.
Future of Travel and Tourism In Nepal
The situation of Nepal and the whole world is beyond doubt scary right now. The global tourism market has suffered deeply. We still haven’t yet been hit with the full impact of this pandemic. Travel enthusiasts all over the world are in a state of paranoia due to Covid-19. People all around the world are in panic mode and their only main target is to stay alive. Even if vaccines are distributed around the world and the world is rid of this pandemic, people may yet be unwilling to travel for a long time. This affects the population of tourists greatly and we may see heavy drop in tourist numbers visiting our country. The economic downfall may be harsher than any of us can know. The recovery time could be years which will significantly affect the country’s economy.
The important thing for the government to do now is take proper measures to ensure that our economy recovers fast. We should try not to lose our interest on Nepal and its multitudes of cultural and natural beauty. We can still have a great time through livestreams, webcams and virtual visits. And we can still read blogs, magazines and books and mark the places we’d like to visit later on. However, no one can predict how well the tourism industry of Nepal will actually flourish after this pandemic. We will just have to wait and see.