One year ago today, Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake. For tourism-dependent nations, two distinct stages follow a disaster that affects citizens.
In the immediate, acute phase, critical needs are addressed by humanitarian aid groups tasked with feeding, healing and housing survivors.
The second stage, recovery, presents a different set of challenges. The disaster attaches a stigma to the destination that keeps tourists away long after the country is ready to receive them again. Tourism workers, many traumatized, find the source of their livelihood remains shut down.
Long after media attention has drifted elsewhere, locals involved in tourism face challenges, and a country whose economy depends on tourism suffers with them.
Nepal's earthquake struck on a Saturday. Once the scope of the disaster became clear, Tourism Cares, the industry nonprofit, began exploring how to assist during Nepal's recovery. I'm a director of the organization and sit on its Global Committee, which focuses on international destinations. Under the leadership of CEO Mike Rea and committee co-chairs Robin Tauck of Tauck World Discovery and Chris Seek of Solimar International, we worked through the weekend to formulate a strategy.
We established a Nepal Recovery Fund and reached out to the travel community. You might have received an email from me at that time asking for your support.
The industry responded to our solicitations, and the fund soon raised $90,000. In the spirit of gratitude and transparency, I'd like to share with you how that money was spent, what was accomplished and what we're doing moving forward.
But first, a quick acknowledgement of some of our major donors.
Travel Corp., through its TreadRight Foundation, donated $20,000. Other significant contributors include Abercrombie & Kent, CheapOair, Tripmate, MaCher, Virtuoso, AIG, Alexander & Roberts, Cruise Planners, ASTA, Collette, Avoya Travel, Passport Online, Cox & Kings, White Mountain Hotel & Resort, Tauck Ritzau Innovative Philanthropy, the Bob Whitley Memorial Fund, Globus, Valerie Wilson Travel and Travel Weekly.
In all, more than 220 companies and individuals made donations.
Our goal was not only to support tourism's recovery in Nepal but to make recovery a reason to visit Nepal instead of a reason to stay away. We wanted to facilitate a shorter and stronger recovery and look for ways to expand and improve pre-quake tourism offerings.
Tourism Cares' plan involves both communications/awareness/education campaigns and direct aid to local businesses that were operating before the quake as well as to "new" communities we identified as potentially benefiting from tourism.
Notable projects over the past 12 months:
• Tourism Cares, working with Nepal's Academy of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Harvard's Kennedy School and Rasuwa Relief, went into camps for displaced persons in Langtang and provided training for 40 lodge and tea-house owners and workers.
• In related activity, we're providing seed capital to enable 37 guest houses to reopen, and we are exploring other ways to assist Langtang.
• Tourism Cares provided funding to train six visually impaired Nepalese to become massage therapists at Seeing Hands Nepal, a social enterprise with three clinics. These jobs pay more than twice what options for the blind in Nepal typically pay.
• Working with Change Fusion Nepal, Tourism Cares is helping to create a community-owned restaurant in Khulikhel.
• Tourism Cares is funding the reconstruction of the information technology room of the damaged READ Center for literacy and education in Tuckhe.
• Tourism Cares is creating a tourist guide to cultural heritage and restoration in the Kathmandu Valley.
• With the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Tourism Cares is working on disaster preparedness and management training for tour operators and is supporting the ATTA's media and advocacy campaign, Adventure Rebound Nepal.
• Tourism Cares has provided funding to NepalNow.org, a recovery information source and social media campaign designed to encourage travel to Nepal.
• Tourism Cares is working with tour operators and local partners on voluntourism best practices in Nepal.
• Tourism Cares created a "Meaningful Travel Map" to Nepal for tour operators and travel advisers.
You'll note that, in many cases, Tourism Cares partnered with like-minded organizations, to whom we are profoundly grateful.
As a nonprofit, Tourism Cares' goal isn't to duplicate or replace other industry efforts or foundations. It operates with the belief that its efforts can complement and amplify other travel-related giving and philanthropy. In fact, many travel companies that have foundations are also deeply involved, active members of Tourism Cares.
For more information about Tourism Cares and what it has done in Nepal, visit TourismCares.org. You'll find that recovery relief is just one aspect of how the group helps the industry in the U.S. and abroad.
And perhaps you'll be moved to join. It's an excellent way to give back to the people and places that have, personally and professionally, given so much to us.