Now that the dust has finally begun to settle, life as a Nepali has begun to resemble the carefree 2019 lives that we enjoyed prior to the pandemic. People going about their daily routines are heard in the background of businesses and restaurants, which appear to have returned with their hectic hums.
In contrast, the once-thriving Nepalese tourism industry cannot be said to be in a similar state. According to the Nepal Bureau of Statistics, the country’s GDP dropped by an appalling 80.7 percent between 2019 and 2020. Although the numbers for 2021 show a positive increase from 2020 of approximately 60-70k, this teeny bit of hope for a country looking to transition and rely on tourism as a major economic contributor appears to be short-lived with the emergence of Omicron.
Tourism currently accounts for 3.0 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). With local businesses and tourist attractions on the verge of collapse, a lack of immediate and affirmative solutions to revitalize the tourism industry will result in an avoidable but detrimental halt to the nation’s tourism project, which it has so heavily invested in.
If, on the other hand, the idea were to look outward for a solution to the crisis, one would not have to look very far. Only 6,038 kilometers away, in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) branch and local organizations such as the Via Dinarica (a nature-based tourism initiative) worked together to adapt to the new norm by diverting their market to a more COVID-conscious approach: the domestic market.
Using government and UNDP investments, stipends to local businesses and workers, and elaborate social media campaigns, the country has reformed its tourism market in order to create a more sustainable economy in tourism, one that would be able to adapt and withstand any similar pandemics in the future.
As domestic tourism accounts for approximately half of the country’s total tourism revenue, Nepal should consider transitioning to the development of infrastructure and models that are tailored to the needs of the tourism industry.
According to the Department of Industry, a record number of 83,386 new businesses were registered in the fiscal year 20/21, with the vast majority of them being small and cottage industries. The stage is set for the government, in collaboration with the various organizations in Nepal, to bring about this shift in strategy in order to navigate safely through sustainable and domestic solutions to international problems.
Certain industries have embraced and successfully implemented such models as they have gotten ahead of the curve. Another industry that benefited from the pandemic was the paragliding scene in Pokhara, which saw its prices halved during the outbreak, resulting in full bookings every day and an exponential increase in interest among domestic thrill seekers.
As a result of the success of the scheme, which was targeted at domestic travelers, nearby hotels and shops have reduced their own prices significantly, helping to boost sales that had previously been on the decline.
The lure of simply visiting places such as Pokhara, Chitlang and the rest of Nepal for their picturesque scenery and pilgrimage sites, combined with the added spice of adventure sports and lucrative price reductions, appears to be the perfect antidote to the country’s ailing tourism industry.
Whether it’s addressing the lack of a proper tourist bus park in the valley, which would make traveling to and from the country’s most popular tourist destinations more convenient, or simply directing more of the country’s upcoming budget plans toward domestic marketing and infrastructure.
Omicron’s appearance, as well as the reaction it provoked from countries such as the United States, which restricted travel to a number of countries including France, should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers to reconsider the status quo and adapt to the new norm as best they can. Nepal and its neighbors still have time to take the proactive route, by creating a safer environment for new tourism-oriented businesses, as well as providing schemes and incentives for existing businesses.