Why is Nepal insisting on the opposite? If Nepal is Covid-19 infection free, it is out of pure luck. Continuing with VNY2020 effort would test that luck to a dangerous extreme. The Italian outbreak that is spreading across Europe at a faster rate than in China began with just one Italian man.
While all of China’s provinces have reported infections, more than 16,000 Chinese tourists have entered Nepal through Tribhuvan International Airport since January, of which more than 3,000 arrived in the first three weeks of February.
The two sick Chinese nationals in Pokhara who were asked to stay under surveillance this month went into hiding and could not be traced. A Saudi Arabian tourist who arrived in Nepal via China also ran away from a Kathmandu Hospital where he was being monitored. Pokhara, is a top destination for Chinese tourists, and tens of thousands of Nepalis will converge there in April for the Nepali New Year holiday.
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It can take as long as 24 days for symptoms of Covid-19 to appear. Tourists spend an average of 12 to 14 days in Nepal, most visit a shared list of sites. They converge in Thamel, the capital’s tourist hub located near Kathmandu’s ‘Chinatown.’
Hotels and airlines in Nepal have seen cancellations after the outbreak. Spring mountaineering expeditions are in doubt, and the trekking season is at risk. Experts warn that even if the outbreak weakens due to warmer weather, it could resurface later in the year. An outbreak in Nepal this spring could kill not only the fall season, it could even risk tourism in 2021.
Some have argued this is just another flu variant with low fatality rate so far, and there’s a good chance it will just be in most people’s systems for the foreseeable future, implying there is not anything to be scared of as such. Nepal’s poor responses to outbreaks in the past and its weak public health care system gives all the more reason to keep the virus away.
Now that the ITB Berlin Travel Trade Show, the biggest in the tourism industry to be held in March has been cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak, Nepal government should formally drop VNY2020 agenda and focus simply on promoting ‘Visit Nepal’.
The Covid-19 outbreak is having serious impact on the world economy. The United States stock markets are seeing historic lows not seen since the 2008 recession. China’s economic growth is looking shaky. The chain reaction of a global economic slowdown does not bode well for Nepal’s tourism, and could also affect outbound Nepali tourism. The remittance-based economy could take a serious hit if this becomes a pandemic.
The VNY2020 campaign has been criticised for sloppy promotion abroad, and even before this outbreak, few believed the 2 million target could be met. The Covid-19 outbreak provides just the right justification to terminate this ill-planned campaign. This would buy Nepal’s planners time to prepare better with promotion and upgrading infrastructure for a more meaningful campaign.