It’s been quite a dramatic year for the whole world with covid-19 severely blowing people’s lives, the global economy, and private and public sector entities. The novel coronavirus has caused a heavy loss to the lives of tens and millions of people, as well as a heavy toll on the business.
Nobody saw the virus and its adverse impact on human life on its way until it hit Wuhan in China so hard. After the cases multiplied, the city went on a months-long lockdown to prevent the virus’s spread, but it was already late by then.
Over the month, the virus spread all around the world, with the infection rate increasing sharply. The raging coronavirus cases left the entire world in shock, including Nepal, which recorded thousands of confirmed cases.
Given the urgency of the situation, the Government banned travel from early March to stop social gatherings and crowds’ overflow. As a national emergency, all the non-essential businesses were forced to close while residents were given a stay in home order.
Public health measures like physical distancing at public places, self-quarantine, and curbs on crowding to contain injection were implied. This seemingly caused havoc to the national economy as workers were laid off from the hospitality industry. Weekly unemployment skyrocketed after the surge of covid-19 while the travel and tourism industry was badly hurt.
‘Visit Nepal 2020’ was put on ice after the coronavirus’s first case was confirmed in late January. As instructed by the World Health Organization, the country took early safety measures to mitigate the risks. All national and international flights ceased to operate for emerging risk management, which instantly hampered tourism.
The spread of the virus causes a steep decline in travelers demanding to visit Nepal. In fact, those who have earlier coveted to travel the country have withdrawn from the tour to stay safe. This has brought serious difficulty to Nepal’s senior authorities as they continue to work on how to prevent the virus.
Amidst the continuous juggle of keeping the effect of covid-19 on tight grip, the government also has the challenge to promote the frailing tourism industry. They are prone to take a rational decision to protect as many jobs as possible.
Covid-19 and its effect on the tourism industry in Nepal
Tourism has long been a prime source of revenue generation for Nepal. With millions of travelers visiting the country worldwide and generating revenue, Nepal’s national economy largely hangs on the industry. Tourism alone has fueled so many industries, including hotels, businesses, resorts, and theatres.
But since the outbreak of covid-19, there’s not a single trade sector that has not been affected by the pandemic. From the local corner stores to multinational companies and government offices, every business line has been disadvantaged by the virus’s rampant spread.
In case of Nepal, it’s the tourism industry that suffered most after the virus broke out. The abrupt lockdown combined with the inadequate supplies to prevent the virus and irrelevant plans discouraged travelers from flying to the country.
This led to an existential threat to Nepalese tourism which was booming till the surge of coronavirus. The sudden outbreak of the virus prevented many travelers from visiting or planning to visit the country. Those who had already been in the country also had to depart ahead of time by restraining the trip.
Thousands of trekkers were left stranded on the trail of Annapurna, Everest, and many more after the authorities announced that the country was going under lockdown. It was the concerned agencies that took swift action to help travelers.
They were rescued from several parts of the Himalayan region and dispatched to their country of origin. However, the Nepalese Government’s unconsciousness and their reluctance to provide proper protection had visitors depart from Nepal.
Flights were canceled and suspended for almost half a year, following strict travel restrictions of foreign countries. People flocking to the country that once recorded in thousands were none after the increasing coronavirus cases were reported in different countries.
The Government too deferred the visit Nepal 2020 campaign till the situation is under control. However, given the strict lockdown and upswing in the number of coronavirus cases, the initiative could never happen.
Before the pandemic, the Nepalese tourism industry had been booming with substantial remittance. The country was reported to have made Nrs 240.7 billion just the last fiscal year. Unfortunately, the tourism revenue has plummeted this year by an insane amount, causing the Nepalese economy’s biggest blow.
The radical slump in tourist inflow following the travel ban by concerned authorities has ambushed the tourism industry’s economy. Many small service businesses, including accommodation, are at financial risk, while some are already on the brink of shutting down.
People whose livelihood sources relied on the tourism industry have also been through a lot during this pandemic. Daily wages workers like porter and tour guide were the vulnerable group and the primary victims of coronavirus.
The virus effect on minorities and indigenous groups who depended on earning from tourism is unlike anything else. For most of them, it has come down to an ongoing fight for survival. Many small industries and local-run stores engaged in trading essential equipment and apparatus to hikers are also having a hard time running smoothly.
As repercussions of travel restriction, three in five tourism-associated employees have already lost their jobs since the rise of the pandemic. Many are down on the wire of becoming jobless due to tiers of lockdown.
After so many months of isolation, social distancing and physical contact are still required to maintain which impedes industries like tourism to thrive. Nepal Tourism Board recently measured the loss of approx. US$ 83 million each month during the pandemic.
Auto rental companies also suffered greatly during this pandemic as many of them lost their job. They had to adjourn their operation for nearly six months as the prohibition in travel stopped people from going outside their homes.
Due to public health concerns, religious sites like Pashupatinath and Boudha Stupa were closed for visitors during the pandemic. Lumbini, one of the most renowned places to visit for travelers went without guests this season, following the covid pandemic.
More than 1 and a half million tourists used to visit the site in normal times, generating revenue for locals shops and the pilgrimage itself. Their arrival also benefited pro guides as they made a hefty amount. However, the situation is totally different now as the pilgrimage is prohibited from visiting until things don’t get better.
What result has covid-19 brought to the tourism industry in Nepal?
As an abode to the world’s highest mountain and countless trek destinations, Nepal has always been looked at with great fondness by hikers. Each year, millions of travelers pay a visit to the country and spend extravagantly at the city’s restaurants, souvenir shops, and entertainment places.
But this year has been an exception as the global pandemic halted many hikers’ travel plans. Those who had already jetted to the country were also forced to discard their trip halfway and return to their native home.
Hiking trails that were often crowded with travelers in peak seasons remained empty in the current year. This seemingly had a massive impact on the tourism industry which had just started to flourish.
The country was projected to draw a record-breaking 2 million tourists in 2020 as a part of the ‘Visit Nepal’ initiative. However, the novel coronavirus capsized the expectation before it even started as the government imposed a lockdown from early March.
Many travelers who had intended to visit the country chose to stay at home after the news broke out. Its impact was soon felt in every nook of the travel industry as visitors canceled their flight and hotel reservation. Airlines, entertainment venues, and restaurants were forced to shut down to stop the transmission of covid-19.
In the wake of coronavirus, an unprecedented number of planes and helicopters remained grounded. As a consequence, flight attendants and pilots also had to bear a substantial loss. On the bright side, it made people realize their prominent role and contribution during the pandemic.
Pre-advance booking of hotels and lodges were called off in time due to travel bans. In the wake of coronavirus, travel companies have been nothing but helpless to keep the business alive. Even in the holiday season, businesses like entertainment, food, and accommodations are struggling for survival.
Many small businesses have already wind-up due to a lack of enough finance for sustenance. The hospitality industry, which alone contributed to Nepal’s economy and provided so many jobs, is in a state of collapse.
This is a huge shock to Nepal’s sheer economy that had been already crippling from the 2015 earthquake. Although the Government is taking major steps to boost its financial status through investment in agriculture and increase job opportunities, the situation doesn’t seem to normalize anytime soon.
Nepalese economy is primarily driven by foreign remittance and tourism, both of which are currently in crisis. Lately, it was reported that international tourism in Nepal had declined by more than 60 percent. Hence, if the situations are not well managed until the end of the year, the rate of tourists visiting Nepal will decrease further.
Little are the signs of hope for things to become normal again by the year-end. Although the restaurants and shops have opened now for customers, the visitors have primarily dropped from before the pandemic.
Thus, it’s significant that the interested bodies take a serious step to facilitate the business and help them rise again. If Nepal’s government doesn’t take any serious action to prevent the spread of the virus and facilitate the tourism industry now, it will be too late to buck up.
The decrease in tourists’ flow has compelled rentals and hotels to cut down more than half of their staff in different corners. Many luxurious hotels in major cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan were vacant as people avoided physical contact.
However, things are getting better now as hotels are implementing all safety measures to run the business without any disruption. They have ensured that social distancing is strictly followed by all their guests, followed by daily cleanings and sanitization.
Some of the aftereffects of coronavirus pandemic are as follows.
1. Airlines cancellation
Ever since the coronavirus has spurred, flights in Nepal have been canceled like never before. The aviation company witnessed a sharp drop in passengers boarding flights after the World Health Organization proclaimed Nepal as a hot zone for coronavirus. This indeed brought a change in travelers’ behavior patterns using airlines as many of them abandoned flying out of their native country.
2. Disrupted mountaineering expeditions
With more than half a dozen of the world’s highest mountains, Nepal is a mountaineer’s paradise. As a center of attraction, Nepal draws many trekkers during the climbing season and even off. But this year hasn’t been so good for the mountaineers as coronavirus wrecked the plans of hiking the Himalayas. It incited unemployment as over 13,000 people who were clearly tied with tourism as porters and mountain guides lost their job. It, too, entails a loss worth millions of dollars to the economy of the country.
3. Sagarmatha Sambad adjourned
Another worse effect of coronavirus is the delay of Sagarmatha Sambad, a global forum started by the Government of Nepal. The initiative was set up to deal with climate change issues and prevent mountains’ snow meltdown in the Himalayas. However, due to the novel coronavirus, the plan had to be withheld.
4. Financial crisis
The frequent lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic has presumably caused a reduction in financing. Many migrant workers have already returned home, which has slashed the amount of foreign remittance. Stock markets in Nepal are plunging with minimum investment by the public.
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