KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has launched new guidelines to regulate the country’s adventure tourism following revelations of insurance fraud that tarnished Nepal’s image as a tourist destination.
Helicopter companies, travel and tour operators, hospitals and insurance companies will now be required to submit details of rescue flights, medical treatment and insurance bills to a special Tourist Search and Rescue Committee that will be housed at the Tourism Department. The details should also be submitted to Tourist Police and Department of Tourism separately.
According to the new guidelines, travel and tour operators handling the tour package will be legally responsible for looking after its customers from start to finish in all adventure segments. The government has eliminated all ‘intermediaries’ also known as middlemen who have been arranging emergency evacuation services for trekkers and mountaineers.
The guidelines became effective on August 31, said Ghanshyam Upadhyaya, spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry.
As per the Tourist Search and Rescue, Treatment and Monitoring Guidelines 2018, tour and travel agencies will be responsible for educating their customers on the potential risk involved in the adventure activities and they will be solely liable for adopting mitigation measures.
During a helicopter rescue, helicopter operators cannot transport other people except the sufferer and the helper or guide. The hospital concerned should ascertain the illness of the patient and prepare an initial cost estimate for treatment, details of which should be provided to the trekking or mountaineering handling agency.
The guidelines require airlines and helicopter operators to provide details of the number of rescue operations, place and fee charged to the committee within 10 days following the end of the trekking and mountaineering season.
Hospitals must provide details of the cost of treatment seven days after the patient is discharged.
Recently, international insurance companies had warned the government that they would stop issuing travel insurance policies for tourists visiting Nepal from September 1 if it did not move to eliminate insurance fraud hatched by brokers in trekking and mountaineering agencies.
They said that the fraudulent helicopter rescues that are happening throughout Nepal and overtreatment that is happening in some hospitals was costing insurance companies millions of dollars every year.
On July 30, a government fact-finding committee submitted a 700-page probe report to Tourism Minister Adhikari which stated that unscrupulous operators had been pocketing thousands of dollars from insurance companies by making multiple claims for a single chopper ride or pushing trekkers to agree to airlifts for minor illnesses.
The committee said in its report that there had been widespread complaints of dishonest companies serving adulterated food to make tourists sick so they can be evacuated by helicopter and they can receive commissions from helicopter companies and hospitals and clinics.