Dipendra Dhakal / July 31, 2020
Tourism is a social, cultural, and economic phenomenon, which represents the set of movements generated by the search for places and activities that are different from usual. Traditionally, tourism is associated with leisure and vacation, where tourists look for new experiences and relaxation. Moreover, tourism is a reason for most of the human mobility in the modern world.
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Photo Source: Abhimanyu Shrestha / Himalayanesprit[/caption]
As far as the tourism industry of Nepal is concerned, it has been facing many crisis and difficulties since its initiation. According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) 2014, Nepal has been officially opened for international tourists since 1951. There have been crisis and disasters which have directly affected the tourism industry of Nepal in a different time period. The tourism sector was severely disrupted by the 2015 earthquake, trade blockade by India in 2015 and it is COVID-19 pandemic now. The contemporary situation of Nepal’s tourism industry is significantly affected by COVID-19. The significant effect of this situation is yet to come and it requires a long time to cure.
According to the UNWTO (2020), international tourism has indicated continuous growth for the tenth consecutive year, was reported 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals in 2019 and an estimated 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals by 2030. Unfortunately, COVID-19 started from Hubei Province, Wuhan City in China in December 2019. It spread all over the world by March 2020 and has been remarkable in world history as the most challenging tragedy that occurred in the world after decades, maybe World War II. The major disruptions on the global economy from the transmission of this virus especially to the trade sector, food, consumer goods, healthcare delivery, and a potential curtailing of travel and tourism in most of the countries.
The situation should be tactically addressed with suitable proactive and reactive measures to overcome future threats to ensure the socio-economic well-being of increased travel and tourism. The silence of tourism activities and halt of travelers’ mobility due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has invited crisis in the tourism industry and related businesses. Tourism crisis is not a new phenomenon, there have been crisis in history, such as war and terrorism, which interrupted the growth of tourism, but the study of crisis management in tourism began recently. Many leaders and economists have declared the situation very worst and have started comparing the crisis similar to the time of World War.
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Photo Source: Abhimanyu Shrestha / Himalayanesprit[/caption]
Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal did not have a clear predetermined technical agenda for such a worse tragedy before. However, when Nepal confirmed the first case on January 23, 2020; a student who had returned to Kathmandu from Wuhan on 9 January and subsequently concerned for the pandemic. Nepal seemed to be proactive and reactive in maintaining the low rate of the case till date by implementing a country-wide lockdown which came into effect on 24 March and is scheduled to end on 15 April; closure of the international airport and borders shut down in the south and north; and isolating the citizens who have traveled in international destinations and quarantining the suspect. However, the COVID-19 outbreak in Nepal increased rapidly and the country-wide lockdown continued many times until 21 July, 2020 by observing the pandemic situation. According to the report of 26 July 2020 by the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), it has confirmed 18,613 cases, 13,128 recoveries, and 45 deaths in the country. In the meantime, 342,457 PCR tests have performed in 28 laboratories across the country.
As reported by The World Bank (2020) press release, “The World Bank has approved a fast-track $29 million financing agreement with the Government of Nepal for Nepal’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project. This project helps Nepal to prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness. The agreement was signed by the Ministry of Finance(MoF) and The World Bank."
The project primarily focuses on the rapid response and preparedness to fight the virus. The project supports to enhance Nepal’s capacity to detect cases and ensure prompt contact tracing consistent with WHO guidelines and the Ministry of Health Population protocols. It has also helped to set up required intensive care units, beds, and isolation facilities across the country. Furthermore, the World Bank project will also equip designated health facilities with personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygienic materials along with capacity enhancement of laboratories to respond to the public health emergencies and strengthen the health institutions.
As far as the tourism industry of Nepal is concerned, it has been facing many crisis and difficulties since its initiation. According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) 2014, Nepal has been officially opened for international tourists since 1951. There have been crisis and disasters which have directly affected the tourism industry of Nepal in a different time period. The tourism sector was severely disrupted by the 2015 earthquake, trade blockade by India in 2015 and it is COVID-19 pandemic now. The contemporary situation of Nepal’s tourism industry is significantly affected by COVID-19.
The significant effect of this situation is yet to come and it requires a long time to cure. The government of Nepal cancelled the very ambitious “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign temporarily which was inaugurated in January 2020 as a national event targeting to welcome two million tourists in Nepal by 2020, almost 100% increase compared to 2018. According to Asian Development Bank (ADB) report (2019), the tourism industry has an important position in Nepal’s economy and the industry earns on an average of 25% of the total foreign exchange and provides direct employment to more than 200,000 people. The total contribution of Travel and tourism to the country’s GDP stood at 7.9 percent in the year 2018 (ADB, 2019). However, Nepal’s tourism-based economy is being severely impacted due to travel restrictions imposed by Nepal and other countries, and airlines cancelling flights due to the outbreak of the coronavirus this year.
In the other hand, the major sub-sectors of the tourism industry in Nepal which are listed in the Department of Tourism, viz. travel agencies, trekking agencies, rafting agencies, tourist transportation service, tour guide and river guide, hotel industry and airlines which are closed; and employees are affected as being temporary unemployment. Nepal government has already decided to open the international and domestic flights from 17 August 2020. After this announcement, Nepal is gradually going to enter in New Normal Phase of COVID-19.
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Photo Source: Abhimanyu Shrestha / Himalayanesprit[/caption]
Tourism, as an industry, we need to have a resilient strategic plan to rebuild the country's economy.The impact of this worst pandemic in New Normal will also lower the business investment due to increased uncertainty and risk. Consequently, the demand for traveling and consumer confidence also may very lower due to uncertainty and fear. This will ultimately lead to reducing the spending of people as lowering the income with limited economic activities and quarantine life to reduce the probability of COVID-19 infection. Moreover, the face to face contact may generate lower confidence for both service providers and consumers in the related services and supplies in tourism, transportation, and trade even in the New Normal Phase. The problems will also occur in the utilization of the full capacity of human resources. The major challenge in New Normal and after COVID-19 is to strengthen community-based economic activities. The day to day income of the grass-root level suppliers in the value chain has vanished with the spread of the deadly virus.
Therefore, community engagement should be carefully planned that makes a positive impact on attitudes to risk. When the country moves to New Normal Phase after lockdown, there is an urgent need to encourage tourism operators to engage with crisis preparedness and disaster-management strategies and it is important to gain a better understanding of the consumer response to a catastrophic event by all components of the value chain. This is one of the key elements which currently not in the corporate plans of many business organizations in the tourism industry. Therefore, all stakeholders should pay attention to the following necessities in the New Normal and after the pandemic.
- Knowledge sharing and collaboration with necessary stakeholders locally and globally.
- Understand the consumer response after the pandemic, because the demand patterns and consumer behaviour in all market segments may show significant changes.
- Destination rebranding is very much essential after the situation highlighting the positive elements during the pandemic.
- Implement the health protocols recommended by WHO. The protocols such as wear of mask and gloves, maintaining distance, providing hand washers and hand sanitizers, preparedness at airports with thermal scanners for body temperature, periodic disinfectants, and others.
- Show the readiness and response of the Nepal government for the COVID-19 transmission compared to the competitive destinations.
- Highlight the key incidents of Nepal related to the tourists and international visitors during the past tragedies.
- Hoteliers, travel agents, and other service providers should be continuously kept in touch with key customer base during the pandemic. Travelers and guests will give safety and hygiene measures a priority when choosing their accommodation that’s why they should implement strict cleaning protocols to deal with the coronavirus.
- Create a comprehensive guide of the hotel’s actions to prevent COVID-19 infections and make it easily available on the hotel’s website and train your team to identify possible symptoms caused by COVID19.
- Use technological tools so that they feel united even if some team members may be working from home. It is important not to stop daily meetings and regular communication with staff.
- Community Based Tourism should be properly encouraged with adequate resources to mitigate and recover from the pandemic.
- Service providers and human resource within the tourism and hospitality industry must be sufficiently educated and prepared for the recovery to retain and collaborate with guests/ potential guests appropriately to avoid uncertainties and risks.
- Responsible and ethical use of social media and mass media.
- All possible communication channels should efficiently remain opened between key tourism and hospitality stakeholders and the local and regional public health authorities as part of a proactive strategic response plan.
- Announcements and advice from global institutional structures such as the World Tourism Organization(UNWTO) and the World Travel and Tourism Council(WTTC) in order to recover the industry level globally.
- National tourism bodies should continuously collaborate with the global level tourism bodies to help the tourism industry prepare and respond to global health emergencies.
- More researches should be carried out with the support of academia to see the indirect effects of the pandemic.
In fact, what we are facing today requires extraordinary recovery in the field of tourism by creating a new strategy in dealing with new life with threats in New Normal. Therefore, ensuring the safety of the guests and the staff has become a top concern of the tourism industry stakeholders that will always be a big agenda and must be concerned by the government and national tourism bodies in restructuring the tourism after this COVID-19 pandemic. It requires wonderful cooperation among all the tourism sectors. Hoping that there will be an appropriate situation in flourishing Nepal Tourism in the future even though it receives losses today.
(The author is a Ph.D. student at Tokyo University of Agriculture, Japan)