As Nepal's strikes turn violent, European and Indian trekkers are turning away from the nation. Tour operators fear it will take more than a calming to bring them back.
Source: The Kathmandu Post/Asia News Network
By ASangam Prasain
The recent spate of bandas in Nepal have hurt the country’s booming tourism industry with hotels reporting a flurry of cancellations.
They said that they had not received any inquiries for reservations for the last three days.
Around 80 per cent of the 54,498 rooms in the country’s five-star hotels were occupied as of mid-May. The scenario started to change since May 10 with a two-day general shutdown called by the Brahmin Chhetri Samaj. Subsequent strikes called by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) and the Indigenous Nationalities Joint Struggle Committee (INJSC) have added to the woes of hotels as it is uncertain when the constant shutdowns will end.
Similarly, tour and trekking operators have seen their business take a plunge following the strikes. Tour operators said almost 40 per cent of the tours booked for May have been cancelled. A majority of the tours have been booked by European and the Indian visitors.
Most foreign visitors here have remained indoors during the shutdowns. Travel trade entrepreneurs fear that once visitor confidence is lost, their numbers will drop significantly and the momentum cannot begin again instantly.
The Hotel Yak & Yeti has reported cancellations of 375 room-nights from May 19 to June 2 and the trend is increasing gradually. “We have lost 375 room-nights within a week due to a re-occurrence of strikes,” said Bharat Joshi, director, sales and marketing at the Yak & Yeti. According to him, visitors who are already here have been compelled to cut short their trips.
Another five-star property the Hotel Annapurna has also been struck by room cancellations. Raj Bikram Shah, sales and marketing manager of the Annapurna, said tourists have so far cancelled 150 room nights.
“There have been no enquiries from new guests for the last three days,” Shah said, adding that all domestic functions like seminars and workshops had also been cancelled. Both hotels have estimated their losses for May to be Rs 10 million.
According to hoteliers, the disappointing part is that visitors have been frequently complaining of “very uncomfortable situations” in Nepal.
As publicity by word of mouth brings a lot of tourism into the country, the concerns of visitors has become a major worry for the industry.
With the country already witnessing more than four strikes and more planned, tourists have started asking for a “guarantee” for their visit from tour operators.
Pavitra Kumar Karki, president of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), said travellers need to feel confident when booking their holidays, and that even the government is seen to be helpless to ensure their safety.
Last Thursday, 200 tourists were stranded at Kawasoti, Nawalparasi due to a banda. Similarly, around 150 foreign tourists travelling to Pokhara were stuck on the Prithvi Highway after protesters obstructed their vehicles.
“Protests have become more violent across the country from Sunday,” Karki said. He added that publicity about the strikes and fear of possible violent activities during the run-up to May 27, the deadline for writing a new constitution, have led to more than 40 per cent of the tour bookings being cancelled.
Mahendra Singh Thapa, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), said that violent protests across the country have forced operators to call their clients not to come to Nepal before May 27.
“All the tourism activities have been affected badly, so it is not reasonable to host visitors at present,” Thapa added. The Eastern, Western and Central regions all have been affected by strikes.
“The trekking sector is also likely to incur booking losses of over 40 per cent this season.”
Entrepreneurs said that trekking and rafting, the most popular adventure activities among visitors, were the most affected by the bandas. Tourist arrivals jumped during Nepal Tourism Year 2011, and the upward trend was maintained during the first four months of 2012. Arrivals from January to April amounted to 207,961, up 23.1 per cent year on year.
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