Tourism arrivals to Nepal have dropped by as much as 85%
since two massive earthquakes struck the country within the past month,
according to the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO). But the avid
trekkers who accounted for much of the country’s tourism dollars prior to the
quakes are helping pave Nepal’s path to recovery with requests for trips that
combine trekking and voluntourism efforts.
“Essentially there was a great exodus of tourists following
that first quake, as was to be expected, and the in-flow [of tourists] sort of
stopped almost immediately,” said Ashok Pokharel, president of NATO.
He said a tourism recovery committee has been formed to
determine the way forward for Nepal’s tourism sector.
Surveys of the country’s cultural and natural assets are
underway, including of its Unesco World Heritage Sites and trekking routes, to
assess the damage and communicate that information to tour operators, travel
agents and potential visitors.
In the meantime, the adventure travel community is leading the charge to bring travelers back
to Nepal, with a focus on helping the country rebuild. The Himalayas, with
their dramatic beauty and challenging treks, have long drawn this group.
“We’ve received an overwhelming response from the public
wanting to assist,” Canadian adventure travel company World Expeditions said in
The company is assembling a series of voluntourism projects
that will run from September through April 2016, ranging from four days to
three weeks in length, combining a community assist project in Nepal with a
Nepali adventure tour operator Ace The Himalaya has already
assembled such a program in partnership with the Clymb, a Portland, Ore.-based
outdoor gear and adventure travel seller. The 13-day itinerary includes nine days
of trekking and four days of helping to rebuild destroyed villages. Eight
departures will be offered, beginning in September and running through May
Tour participants will help reconstruct villages in the
Gorkha region, near the epicenter of the first quake, where trekking volunteers
will provide “priceless sweat equity along with much-needed dollars to help
purchase construction supplies,” Ace said.
All proceeds from the trips will go to the Sambhav Nepal
Foundation, a local organization that is rebuilding villages.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is also
planning to bring its Adventure Week event to Nepal this year to reignite
Nepal’s adventure-tourism economy.
“We’ve received an overwhelming response from the public wanting to assist,” — Canadian adventure travel company World Expeditions
“We believe that the next six to 12 months will be very
difficult for Nepal in general and, for certain, the tourism industry,” said
ATTA President Shannon Stowell. “So our effort will go into what we know we can
deliver in destination strengthening and business continuity or boosting,
specifically focusing on the adventure sector.”
Each year, ATTA’s Adventure Week events draw tour operators,
travel agents and media to a destination with adventure travel potential.
The Nepal version will be called Adventure Week
Rebound-Nepal and will feature experts in tourism infrastructure, destination
recovery, international connectivity and marketing. ATTA has not yet decided on
Australian tour operator Intrepid Travel hopes that it, too,
can help jump-start Nepal’s battered tourism industry with the launch of several
charity treks for 2015.
An Everest Base Camp trek in October will raise money for
the Kathmandu Environmental Education Programme, one of the Nepal-based
charities supported by the operator’s Intrepid Foundation.
“Trekkers are the main source of western tourism in Nepal,”
said Intrepid Travel’s general manger for Nepal, Nicholas Cowie.
Intrepid is working with its local operations team and
international experts to assess the extent of the damage on landforms and on
structures in the two main trekking regions of Nepal, with the aim of assessing
the tracks as quickly as possible before the monsoon season starts and again
before the start of the season in September.
With the summer months being Nepal’s rainy low season,
representatives of Nepal’s tourism sector are hoping the country can recapture
through the remainder of 2015 some of the losses it sustained this spring.
“The next high season begins in September, and we are all
acting to get the show back on the road by then,” Pokharel said. “We know that
we will probably lose some numbers overall in 2015, but we also believe that if
we are able to show that we have put in place the things needed for a speedy
recovery, 2016 should be a year with normal tourism arrivals.”
While that might seem optimistic, tour operators confirmed
that Nepal bookings are holding steady for the fall and beyond.
“Being that we are about to enter the monsoon season, we do
not have any clients traveling until the fall,” said Sasha Lehman, director of
operations and vendor services for Absolute Travel. “We have received a few
calls and emails from them, largely expressing concern for Nepal overall, but
no one has cancelled as of yet.”
Matt Holmes, director of operations at Boundless Journeys,
said that he, too, has not yet seen any cancellations for travel to Nepal this
fall, nor even any reluctance on the part of guests to travel there.
“I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised by an
optimistic attitude,” Holmes said. “Nepal has always been a compelling
destination for travelers, and I do believe this will continue even in the
short-term. We will certainly be encouraging travel to Nepal as a way to help
the country rebound from such a disaster.”