COVID-19 impacting Nepal’s tourist based economy
Anjali Gupta
Monday, Mar 23, 2020
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Tourism is one of the largest industries in Nepal. Last year, Nepal’s tourism industry generated Rs 240 billion and supported 1 million jobs. Novel Coronavirus (hereafter referred as ‘COVID-19’) has hard hit this industry and is further going to impact negatively on the Nepal’s tourism-based economy. The country was hopeful until last month when Nepal’s Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai claimed that Nepal was a “coronavirus free zone”. Also, he invited foreign travellers to travel Nepal without any fear.
Recently, Nepal has realised that COVID-19 is an epidemic and haunts even the most powerful countries of the world. Most recent, situation reports by WHO confirmed 209,839 cases globally. Among which, 81,174 were from China alone. These cases are spread across 182 countries and territories around the world and 1 international conveyance (the Diamond Princess cruise ship harbored in Yokohama, Japan). The number of deaths in China have come to 3,242 and outside China the count of deaths is increasing exponentially. By the time, you read this article my figures would get irrelevant.
Nepal reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 25 which too was not through ‘local transmission’ rather was an ‘imported case only’. It has been more than 55 days ever since its first case. The situation in Nepal is still under control. However, Nepal is facing serious threats to its economy. This is because Nepal’s prosperity is heavily dependent on its tourists. Travel and tourism is the hardest hit by the pandemic.
Nepal received 169,543 Chinese mainland visitors in 2019, while the number of tourists from Japan stood at 30,534 and those from South Korea reached 29,680, according to Nepal's Department of Immigration. Likewise, the Himalayan country received a total of 15,676 Italian tourists and 1,882 Iranian nationals last year, the department said. Therefore, the first headlines that caught attentions was that of the cancellation of promotional events of Nepal Visit-2020 (hereafter referred as “NV-2020”). This event was seen as one of the most crucial events of Nepal in 2020. Government of Nepal was aspiring to attract double the number of tourists who came last year.
Even though the NV-2020 was an important event and its cancellations would cost millions to Nepal, but the amount is still less than the cost health of its people. After realising this, Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population had taken various measures. Nepali nationals are advised to refrain from ‘non-essential travel’ to the countries affected by or in the high risk of COVID-19, including China, North Korea, Iran, Japan and Italy.
Nepal government has decided to restrict the entry of citizens from China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran to enter Nepal in Visa-on-arrival entry. The citizens from the above-mentioned countries shall need to obtain a visa prior to their travel from the embassies of Nepal in the respective countries from now on. The suspension on the visa process will last from March 10 to the date of any further notice.
‘Nationals from these countries, willing to visit Nepal can obtain visa beforehand from the Nepali missions abroad. Those applicants and also the nationals transiting from these countries bound to arrive Nepal are required to submit a recently issued health certificate stating that they are not infected by COVID-19 along with their visa applications. The aforementioned health certificate will be scrutinized both at the immigration at the airport in Kathmandu and the land border entry-exit points of Nepal’, Department of Immigration further stated.
This has further resulted into government’s notice for VNY 2020 and Sagarmatha Sambaad cancellation. Government has cancelled the promotional events in the overseas market’ in the month of March. The tourism entrepreneurs are demanding to call off the entire event. They are further arguing that the promotional activities were already inadequate to attain the tourism target. COVID-19 is seen as a final nail in the coffin of VNY 2020. There are great chances of VNY 2020, shifting to 2022. Yogendra Sakya , a tourism entrepreneur argues that “the campaign objective of drawing 800,000 additional tourists without adequate promotional activities was not convincing by itself, it’s better to stop all overseas promotional expenses immediately”. He is not the only one with such demands. Rather, promotional events are being called off globally.
Different sectors of Nepal’s tourism-based economy have started showing impact in numbers. Hotel occupancy rates in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitawan have fallen by 70-80 percent. The top ten countries from where Nepal gets tourists are on high alert. India is screening passengers arriving from Kathmandu. Most countries have issued travel advisories for people traveling to and from China. Thailand’s health minister discourages travel abroad, saying ‘It could be your last holiday.’ South Korea is in complete crisis mode due to the rapidly growing outbreak.
Nepal is very much vulnerable to the disease. Cancelling the promotional events was one of the hardest measures taken by the government just days before the event. This is definitely going to impact the economy of Nepal. However, government understands the priority of the situation. Nepal needs to strengthen its health preparedness and prepare a recovery plan. Since the longevity of the disease is still unknown the VNY 2020 campaign budget should better be invested in tourism infrastructure and internal promotion. Most importantly, the government of Nepal should take necessary measures to back its economy.