Sauraha tourism struggles to recover after disasters

- SHIVA PURI, BHARATPUR

Jun 22, 2016-

Tourism in the popular jungle safari destination of Sauraha has been struggling to get back on its feet after being knocked out by last year’s earthquake and subsequent trade embargo. 

Travel trade entrepreneurs are worried about the slow pace of recovery as they expect it to take at least another two years for tourism to return to its old vibrant self. About 30 percent of the tourists visiting Nepal go on jungle safari in Chitwan National Park.

According to entrepreneurs, business has plunged 50 percent as foreign visitors have been avoiding Sauraha which is know for its rich wildlife including the Royal Bengal tiger and one-horned rhino.

The tourism industry has been trying to lure back safari goers to Sauraha by launching discount schemes after arrivals nosedived in the wake of the April 25 

earthquake. 

The highly popular jungle safari destination in the southern plains was not greatly affected by the tremor which devastated parts of Nepal, but potential visitors had stayed away following exaggerated reports of widespread destruction across the country, travel traders said. 

The battered industry received another blow when India imposed a trade embargo in September last year, the peak tourist season in Nepal.

Gyanendra Kumar Bista, president of the Regional Hotel Association, Sauraha, said the trade embargo that lasted more than four months had a more severe effect on the fickle tourism business than the earthquake. “Before the blockade, 200 Indian tourists used to visit Sauraha daily. Arrivals have plunged now.” 

Out of the 100 hotels in Chitwan, 30 hotels offer good amenities. As many of these hotels have taken loans from banks, they are greatly worried about being able to make timely repayments due to the slowdown in business. The number of hotels and restaurants has been increasing but the number of visitors has been decreasing.

According to Shankar Sainju, former president of the Regional Hotel Association, tourist arrivals to Nepal dropped to 500,000 last year from 800,000 in the previous year. “Even if there are no disturbances this year, it could take another two-three years for the tourism industry to rebound.” He said that business in Sauraha was down more than 50 percent in the first six months of 2016.

Krishna Sagar Chaudhary, an elephant mahout, said there was disappointment for him most of the time. According to Chaudhary, strikes and bandas are a greater worry for mahouts. “We don’t get a single safari goer when there is a banda,” he said.  

A foreign visitor has to pay Rs1,100 for an elephant ride while it costs Rs800 for an Indian tourist and Rs600 for a Nepali. Most hotels have their own elephants to provide services to tourists. “In the last seven months of the current fiscal year, strikes have severely affected hotel occupancy,” said Madhav Dawadi of the Hotel Seven Star. 

Published: 22-06-2016 10:22

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