Tourism in Nepal has emerged as one of the major economic sectors, having contributed a great deal to the overall growth of the economy. However, the current security situation within this small Himalayan country has become a serious issue for sustaining and expanding the tourism industry. In the past, travelers looked upon Nepal as a peaceful, safe and tranquil destination, but this view has now been challenged.
During the past thirty years, Nepal experienced a unprecedented growth in international tourist arrivals. However, the growth has been thwarted by internal instability arising from a radical movement popularly known as the Maoist insurgency, which began in February 13, 1996 in an effort to create a People’s Democratic Republic. The international community has declared the movement to be one of the deadliest and the most brutal conflicts in Asia, having claimed more than 13,000 lives. In addition, significant changes in the political arena have put the country under pressure. Consequently, Nepal’s immen! se tourism potential has been thwarted as tourist arrivals have plummeted.
In fact, domestic instability, the regional war in Afghanistan, and the global war on terrorism have all negatively impacted the tourism industry in Nepal. In 1962, international arrivals were at 6,179, while the highest visitation was recorded in 1999 with 491,504 visitors. In 2005, a total of 277,129 tourists visited Nepal in 2005 as compared to 288,356 the previous year.
Visitors come to Nepal primarily for trekking and mountaineering usually during the high season from October to May. Because a majority of the military operations have been in the mountain communities where trekking is popular, many of these host communities have been hit the hardest. Hotel and related service industries located around National Parks and conservation areas have also been badly hurt by the conflict. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project, for example, which is the country’s most popular destination, has been severely affected as offices have been attacked, various buildings have been destroyed, and management has been threatened and various conservation and social development programs have been hamp! ered.
Nearly a million people are directly or indirectly employed by tourism related sectors in the country. Collectively, the accommodations’ sector alone has the capability of serving 1.5 million visitors a year, but at present, it’s serving less than 30,000 visitors a year. The upsurge in political unrest and imposition of curfews at the beginning of 2006 is partly to blame, resulting in 20-50% cancellations in bookings causing many hotels and tour operators to struggle to keep their doors open.
Since tourism is integral to Nepal’s economic health, stakeholders feel that only a fully committed and integrated approach can revive tourism and uplift the country’s economy. Measures taken by the government to address the problem have not been effective. Even the Nepal Tourism Board’s laudable efforts have not been able to revive the industry. Regardless, most tourism experts feel that Nepal will thrive again once stability is restored. After all, the Himalayan Kingdom is one of the most well known tourism destinations in the world due to its dramatic natural beauty and its geographical and cultural diversity.
Source: Based on research undertaken by students of Kathmandu University (KUSOM), EMBA, and Batch I (Bharat Bishwakarma, Kiran Lal Joshi, Nogendra Sapkota, Preeti Shrestha Chettry, Sandipa Thapa Basnyat and Sunil Devkota)