Kathmandu, January 26
January has turned out to be an unfavourable month for the national campaign Visit Nepal 2020. Recent incidents of tourist bus accident, avalanche in the Annapurna region, death of Indian tourists and recent announcement made by the Chinese government to halt outbound tourists have become major setbacks for the yearlong campaign.
The campaign had already been criticised earlier for not making enough preparations and now one drawback after another is being considered a bad beginning for the campaign.
On January 17, two people were killed and 29 injured when a tourist bus carrying Chinese tourists hit a truck at Sauraha of Chitwan district. On the same day four Koreans went missing from Deurali area in Kaski district after an avalanche triggered by heavy snowfall hit the trail along the Annapurna trekking circuit.
And on January 25, China Tourism Association announced that all outbound tourist groups will be halted from the next day in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Likewise, it said that overseas flights and hotel bookings through travel agencies will also be suspended.
As China is the second largest market of tourists for Nepal this announcement is likely to hit the VN 2020. The Chinese Lunar New Year, which began from Saturday, sees a large number of Chinese tourists travel across the world during this time.
Hence, the announcement is going to hit the target of VN 2020 campaign as China is the major market for Nepali tourism sector, said Ashok Pokharel, president of Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO).
“There is no certainty on when the coronavirus outbreak is going to be contained,” he said. “So, at least for the VN 2020 campaign all stakeholders including the government have to make a quick decision for an alternative.” Pokharel further said that the campaign promotion should be halted in China for a couple of months and focus should be laid on other destinations.
“Precautions should be taken before the coronavirus outbreak has some major impact on the campaign,” he said, adding, “Now is the time to expand our market and not rely on only neighbouring markets.”
Yogendra Sakya, tourism entrepreneur and coordinator of Nepal Tourism Year 2011, also stressed on having a dialogue to overcome this challenge instead of panicking on how the coronavirus incident will affect the campaign. “The number of Chinese tourists travelling to Nepal may be affected by this incident,” he said, adding, “The government must take immediate action to prevent possible impacts of the coronavirus in the domestic tourism sector.”
Meanwhile, back on January 21, eight Indian tourists died of suffocation in Daman. Hence, entrepreneurs are worried about this incident having a negative impact on Indian tourist arrivals. “The death of the Indian tourists in the first month of VN 2020 campaign may spread a negative message in India regarding the Nepali hospitality sector,” Sakya said.
He further said that there are many tourist standard hotels in the country that hardly meet even the minimum requirements of tourists. Thus, the government has to regulate such hotels so as to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
Meanwhile, Suraj Vaidya, coordinator of VN campaign secretariat, said that a meeting will be held with stakeholders to find a way out of this challenge.
“Definitely, this is an unfortunate incident for China itself and we hope this will not last longer,” he said, adding, “I believe this will have a shortterm effect on Nepal.”
As the VN 2020 campaign is focused on tourism promotion and development for this year and beyond, January only can’t be the base to measure the success of the campaign, he claimed.
Amidst this, the secretariat has planned to organise a grand event on Buddha Jayanti and other adventurous activities focusing on Chinese tourists.
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to hit the number of visitors travelling from China
A version of this article appears in print on January 27, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.