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Arrivals drop by half as disasters take their toll

- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu

Nov 11, 2015-Tourist arrivals plunged 46 percent in the first 10 months as a series of disasters pounded Nepal’s tourism sector, the Finance Ministry said.

According to a report prepared by the ministry, Nepal lost 352,330 tourists during the review period, hitting foreign exchange earnings and jobs in the industry. The country received 300,325 foreign visitors by air until October, down from 652,655 in the same period last year. The number of tourists arriving overland is nominal.

Tourism is a vital foreign exchange earner for the country, but a string of catastrophes since March has played havoc with arrivals.

Bad times started with the accident of a Turkish Airlines jet at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport in March that led hundreds of potential visitors to cancel their Nepal trip.

The next month, the country was struck by a killer quake which destroyed tourism infrastructure, heritage sites and trekking trails. The dreadful event on April 25 set off a mass departure of tourists and a flurry of booking cancellations.

Just as tourism was beginning to recover from the effects of the deadly tremor, a political crisis following the promulgation of a much-delayed constitution resulted in a fuel crisis which dealt another blow to the tottering industry.

Before the fuel crisis, the Tourism Ministry had estimated that Nepal could lose 320,000 tourists this year as a result of the April 25 earthquake. However, the current scenario has been even worse. The trade embargo and resultant fuel shortage has forced hotels and restaurants to shut down, cut down job numbers and reduced the tourist length of stay to all-time lows. The ministry said that tourists were currently staying for less than six days in Nepal. Last year, the average length of stay was 12.44 days.

“The current industry trend shows that arrivals will drop at least 55 percent this year,” said Pramod Nepal, assistant spokesperson at the Tourism Ministry.

“Tourist arrivals were disappointing in the autumn season lasting from mid-September to mid-November, which is the country’s peak season, as a result of the fuel crisis that has prompted a number of foreign airlines to suspend flights or reduce the frequency.” However, he said that industry’s scenario for February 2016 was positive if the current fuel crisis did not last.

The worst effect has been seen on employment in the tourism industry. The ministry said that jobs in the country’s tourism sector dived 25 percent due to the series of misfortunes.  

The average occupancy of hotels plunged below 20 percent in October following the Tarai unrest and fuel crisis. A number of hotels have closed down and others have laid off their workers.

The Finance Ministry report said that employment in hotels and restaurants had plummeted 50 percent. It said that tourist standard hotels had recorded an average occupancy of 90-95 percent in the same period last year.

Likewise, another report released by the Tourism Ministry shows that nearly 110 hotels and restaurants in Thamel, the main tourist district in Kathmandu, have been closed down. The hotels that are still operating have an occupancy rate of below 15 percent.

Likewise, domestic airlines have been forced to slash their daily flight frequency by 75 percent due to a shortage of aviation fuel. “We had hoped that tourism would see a boost during the September-November period, but the situation worsened after the fuel crisis,” said Ashok Pokhrel, president of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators.  Pokhrel said that screaming headlines about no food, fuel, medicine or rescue being available in Nepal appeared in the international media due to the unofficial trade embargo by India and the Tarai unrest, and potential visitors promptly cancelled their Nepal trips. “In fact, a number of Nepali tour operators had even urged tourists who had made bookings with them to postpone their trip after failing to convince them that the problem was not nationwide. However, inquiries for the next season which lasts from March to May 2016 are positive.”

Tourism in doldrums

- Tourist arrivals by air down 46 percent

- Nepal received 300,325 tourists until October

- Average length of stay drops to 6 days

- Arrivals could drop by at least 55 percent

- Jobs in tourism industry drop 25 percent

- Occupancy of hotels plunges below 20 percent

- Inquiry for March-May 2016 is positive

Published: 11-11-2015 08:58

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