Tourism suffers in strife-torn Nepal

A Maoist insurgency, political upheavel and a pro-democracy movement to remove Nepal’s King Gyanendra from absolute power is taking its toll on the country’s tourism sector.Tourist arrivals have fallen from a peak of about half a million in 1999 to 297,000 in 2003 and 277,000 last year. Many fear this year could be worse.

Protests have even spread to the tourism district of Thamel in Katmandu. Nine overseas tourists were briefly detained recently by riot police after breaking a ban on public meetings. Hundreds of hotel and restaurant workers have also been protesting against the king.

Embassies have also issued travel warnings urging their citizens to stay from affected areas of this Himalayan nation of ancient temples and stunning mountaineering, which is bad news for the country since it relies heavily on tourism for foreign exchange.

While many in the sector resent the lack of business due to the strikes, many approve of the political movement that has spread across the country.

Maoist rebels have been fighting to overthrow the monarchy for a decade in a campaign that has killed 13,000 people. Yet they have made it clear that they will not target tourists and no tourist has been killed.

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Mountaineering expedition numbers are also dwindling. There were 101 expeditions in spring last year, and only 65 this year. Trekkers are also postponing trips in large numbers, those in the industry say.

Thamel, which is usually crowded, has mostly deserted bars and restaurants, and shops lie empty. Many hope the industry will receive a lift in mid-May when Indian school holidays begin. Indian families visit Nepal in droves, for the shopping, sightseeing and casinos.
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