Recent surveys show that tourists are putting higher priority on health issues and safety measures than before. For example, a recent survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicates that 88 per cent of passengers are willing to undergo a COVID-19 test as part of the travel requirements and 84 per cent think a COVID-19 test should be required of all travelers.
Tourism is one of Nepal’s largest industries, generating 7.9 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Productin 2018. Visit Nepal 2020 aimed to lure 2 million tourists, generate 2 billion dollars and create thousands of new jobs. Unfortunately, the 2020 campaign had to be scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic from the very start of the year.
Nepal’s lost remittances and tourism revenue have crippled the nation’s finances due to two phases of the lockdown in the past one-and-a-half years. The pandemic has brought the travel industry to a grinding halt in Nepal. The low distribution of vaccines is not helping to bring the virus under control. Until vaccinations are rolled out widely, international travel and tourism restrictions are likely to remain here in Nepal. A return to 2019 levels in terms of international arrivals may take three to four years, and this recovery will depend on widespread vaccination programmes.
These systems may themselves be challenging and will take some time to achieve.
To tackle the pandemic, countries across the globe are executing nationwide vaccination drives. However, the long wait is fuelling ‘vaccine tourism’, a trend that has recently emerged across the globe. Countries around the world are undertaking enormous efforts to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19. The hope is that the vaccination drive will allow for a full return to economic activity and recovery. When it comes to international tourism, the prospects for a quick recovery remain uncertain.
The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020 raised hopes that vaccine passes would help accelerate the recovery of the travel and tourism sector. As long as vaccines provided sufficient immunity and prevented transmission, it was expected that they would allow travellers to cross borders without lengthy quarantine and testing requirements.
This was based on several assumptions, most importantly, that vaccine passes would be immediately available and allow for international travel. However, intergovernmental efforts have not yet led to the introduction of vaccine passes in Asia.
We know from recent surveys that tourists are putting higher priority on health issues and safety measures than before. For example, a recent survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicates that 88 per cent of passengers are willing to undergo a COVID-19 test as part of the travel requirements and 84 per cent think a COVID-19 test should be required of all travelers. Common health protocols should reflect this increased wish for high health standards.
As far as Nepal and its popular tourist destination Pokhara is concerned, it has been deserted by visitors following the second wave of COVID-19. Following the first corona wave, tourism was slowly returning to life, but it has again held hostage by the second wave. To break the silence of the lakeside, tourism entrepreneurs recently reached the District Administration Office with banners and pamphlets that read ‘No vaccine, No Tourism’.
Pokhara-based tourism entrepreneurs are pleading with the administration and the government that they would be able to open their businesses only if relief programmes are introduced and vaccinations ensured. If the state does not provide vaccines, they will have to hand over their businesses to the government, they say. Tourism businessmen in Pokhara have been warned not to open the tourism market until the government makes vaccines easily available. Chairman of Pokhara Tourism Council, an umbrella body of tourism-related organisations, Gopi Bhattarai has urged the government to provide vaccines to the workers and employees affiliated with the tourism sector as soon as possible.
Agni Kandel, coordinator of Internal Tourism Revival Committee, Gandaki, said that an environment could be created to solve the problem if the government provided vaccines to those frontline workers of the tourism sector.
Former member of Nepal Tourism Board Basu Tripathi complains that 10,000 vaccines have been provided to the tourism entrepreneurs in the capital, but no such vaccines have been provided in Pokhara.
Senior tourism entrepreneur Ganesh Bhattarai said that, first of all, the government needs to guarantee that Nepal is safe. He said that foreign tourists were cancelling their bookings due to the slow pace of the vaccination programme.
He clarified that there was no possibility of tourism revival without vaccines.
Pom Narayan Shrestha, vice-chairman of the council, said that the council had been putting pressure on the government for a long time through the media, including the social media, but it has refused to listen. He also warned the government that if its demands were not met, it would be forced to hand over the keys.
Along with this, Pokhara Tourism Council has demanded speedy implementation of the monetary policy introduced last year as it has yet to be implemented.
Through a press release, the council urged the government to immediately implement the economic policies and programmes addressed in the budget.
Entrepreneurs say that the principal and interest of banks and financial institutions in the tourism sector could not be paid back unless the tourism sector operated smoothly.
They have demanded that the government should facilitate the financial institutions to bear the bank interest and rent during the lockdown period. Similarly, the council has demanded that business renewal fees, house rent tax, transport tax as well as all tourism business title charges should be completely waived. It has also demanded relief and job creation packages for the safety of the dependent workers in the tourism sector.
There are 700 hotels and resorts in Pokhara.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 19 2021, of The Himalayan Times.