Dec 23, 2015- The private sector has asked the government to waive visa fees temporarily to keep Nepal’s tourism industry alive as it is close to collapsing after being hit by a series of bad luck this year.
“A visa fee exemption for at least six months would be an important move to boost tourist arrivals at a time when tourism, one of the major contributors to the economy, has been on a downhill course,” said Bhawani Rana, senior vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), speaking Tuesday at an interaction entitled Tourism in the Present Context.
The FNCCI has also recommended making Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) cost-effective or a free port to encourage international airlines to pass through here.
“TIA is known as one of the world’s most expensive airports, and the government needs to consider this issue seriously,” said Rana. Besides, the government should think of bringing in the private sector to manage the country’s sole international airport amid worldwide criticism over its poor services.
The FNCCI has also asked the government to introduce separate incentive packages for tourism entrepreneurs and schemes to attract domestic and foreign investment during this time of crisis.
Binayak Shah, general secretary of Hotel Association Nepal, said that Nepal’s tourism industry was facing its most critical phase in almost a decade.
From big hotels to small lodges, from international airlines to domestic carriers and from trekking agencies to handicraft shops, all businesses are bearing the brunt of the April 25 earthquake and the subsequent trade embargo by India.
“The last time the industry had suffered such big shock was in 2002-03 when the Maoist insurgency was at its height. The conflict had forced nearly a dozen hotels to close down,” he said, adding that the current situation was even worse.
The average occupancy of hotels has nosedived to 20 percent. “Hotels in Kathmandu are suffering losses to the tune of Rs100 to Rs120 million daily due to low occupancy and high operating costs.”
The ongoing fuel crisis and extended load-shedding hours have increased the operating costs for hotels by 40 percent. Many hotels and restaurants have laid off staff.
“Investments totalling more than Rs500 billion that have been poured into the hotels will be at risk if immediate bail-out packages are not introduced by the government,” Shah said. He suggested that the government should create a relief fund and provide loans at subsidized interest for at least a year.
Advance bookings for the first quarter of 2016 are also disappointing.
However, on the bright side, Shah said that the industry could recover quickly if Nepal launched aggressive marketing campaigns in China and India.
Two deadly accidents in a row on Everest in 2014 and 2015, and the 2014 Annapurna avalanche, which killed many foreigners and Nepalis, have dealt a serious blow to the country’s adventure travel sector, said Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, senior vice-president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal.
“The repercussions of these disasters could be bad for the industry next year too if an immediate action plan is not launched to assure the safety of adventure travellers,” he said. “If this issue is not addressed, more than 1.1 million workers engaged in mountaineering and trekking may be out of work.”
Sherpa said that the government should extend by two years the Everest climbing permits of the expeditions which were forced to abandon their spring 2015 bids due to earthquake-triggered avalanches.”
“Each foreigner spends $40,000 to $50,000 to climb Everest, and the government should again welcome those who were forced to quit,” Sherpa said.
Published on: The Kathmandu Post (December 23, 2015)