2020 is not our year. It isn’t anyone’s year.
The spread of the novel coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill. Airlines have grounded their entire fleets. Like other countries whose economies depend in large measure on tourism, Nepal has been badly hit.
Ironically, 2020 was supposed to be Visit Nepal Year, and the Nepal Tourism Board had spent millions of dollars on promotion to attract 2 million tourists this year. But trekking and mountaineering expeditions were called off in mid-March at the height of the spring climbing season, domestic and international flights have been stopped at least till 27 April and that is likely to be extended till end-May.
“2020 is a write-off,” says Raj Tamang of Responsible Adventures who was promoting his business in Europe when the epidemic hit Italy, got back on one of the last flights, and has been in self-quarantine since. “It will take at least one year for Nepal to recover.”
Some airlines are hoping to restart flights over the summer by not selling middle seats to maintain physical distancing, but prices will be much higher than usual. Nepali travel groups expect high-end trekkers to trickle back in the autumn because they already see Nepal as an adventure destination, and they are more used to risks.
“We will also have to reorient our promotion to regional markets like India and China as well as encourage Nepalis to travel more within Nepal,” says Tamang.
As with all other countries, the government has had to find a balance between protecting public health and keeping the economy afloat. The collapse of tourism and remittances from Nepali migrant workers overseas has wrecked the economy, with the World Bank lowering Nepal’s economic growth forecast from 7.1% to 1.5-2.8% this fiscal year.
There are at least 1 million Nepalis that depend on tourism, and the sector makes up nearly 8% of the GDP. The hardest hit are porters and guides who depend on seasonal income during the spring and autumn seasons, employees in the service industry, as well as Nepal’s hotels and restaurant owners who have invested with bank loans.