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Nepal - Færre turister!
NEPAL: Fall in tourist numbers causing concern
IRINnews.org, 6. juli 2005
Der kommer stadig turister til Nepal, - men selvom konflikten mellem regering og maoister ikke direkte vedrører turisterne, så sættes der i stigende omfang fokus på den sikkerhedsmæssige situation. Resultatet er ikke overraskende et faldende antal turister, specielt i det seneste halve år med undtagelsestilstand og voksende politiske spændinger.
“We can no longer say that this is our largest industry anymore,” said Rabi Poudel from the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA).
An estimated 30 percent of Nepalis depend on tourism for their livelihood. The main source is the trekkers who come to see and climb some of the world’s most spectacular peaks.
Tourism remains one of the major contributors towards the national economy and a key earner of foreign currency. A number of other sectors such as agriculture, handicrafts and numerous cottage industries have prospered because of tourism.
Visitor numbers peaked in 1999, with 496,000 people visiting the Himalayan kingdom after aggressive government promotion the previous year. Now travel agents complain there has been no similar international campaign to raise awareness of the country’s tourist potential since that time.
By 2001, the number of tourists fell to 300,000 and by 2004, only around 288,356 arrived, according to the government body, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
An intensification of the Maoist insurgency and the declaration of a state of emergency by King Gyanandera in January 2005 have done nothing to entice visitors back and numbers are expected to be down again this year. Some big hotels and travel agencies in the capital Kathmandu, the arrival point for the majority of foreign visitors, have closed down as have a number of tourist concerns in rural areas.
Some hoteliers are trying to find alternatives to tourism to stay afloat. One of Kathmandu’s best hotels, the Narayani, has diversified and added a complex including a department store and wedding party venue.
“If we are to sustain our tourism industry, we need at least 700,000 tourist arrivals in one year. If we are to develop the industry, then we need 1.5 million tourists,” said Poudel.
Several tourism experts explained that the conflict ought no longer to be an excuse for the government to shy away from promoting and investing in this lucrative sector.
Nepal remains largely safe for visitors. To date, not a single foreign tourist has come under attack or been killed by the rebels. There have been incidents of extortion when tourists have been asked to pay a “tax” when entering or leaving rebel-controlled areas but few tourists have complained about the practice.
“It’s not a good thing to pay the rebels but a few dollars is not a big deal anyway,” said Israeli tourist Sally Bromberg. She had just returned from a one month trip with friends in the Annapurna conservation area, one of Nepal’s most beautiful and popular trekking regions, to the northwest of Kathmandu.
“Nepal is still safe for tourists. Tourism has nothing to do with politics,” explained Bromberg.
Tourism in regions like Annapurna has helped alleviate poverty and boost the impoverished local economy. Many local people feel they are more likely to benefit from eco-tourism initiatives now increasingly seen as a positive development strategy in Nepal.
The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has brought together nearly seven ethnic groups to manage a series of environmentally friendly tourism programmes from which they benefit.
The schemes include local home-stays (guests staying in their homes) employing locals as guides and interpreters and encouraging tourists to shop locally whilst respecting the environment.
Some of these gains have been eroded when Nepal has received negative publicity.
“What really worries me is not the direct impact of the conflict but its indirect impact, like the foreign media, who portray Nepal as very unsafe for tourists,” said NTB’s spokesperson Aditya Baral.
Over-cautious travel warnings from embassies to their nationals have worked against the industry say the tour operators.
“We understand the responsibility of the embassies are for the safety of their nationals but it’s time they softened their messages, because no tourist has ever come under any Maoist threat,” said Baral.
Those working in the business have called for infrastructural development to facilitate growth in the tourism industry, including new roads and a wider range of accommodation, both of which would enhance employment opportunities in rural areas.
“If this industry develops, most of Nepal’s sectors will prosper. Once it fails, crisis will prevail at both rural and urban levels, leading to more poverty,” explained Shiba Adhikari Tourist Guide Association of Nepal (TURGAN).
Many local people, both young and old, have found opportunities in their villages to work as tourist guides. A lack of education has not prevented them from being able to secure an income both for themselves and their families through the industry but now they find themselves at risk.
Jomsomis a popular mountain tourist area 200 km northwest of Kathmandu, that lies at an altitude of 2,800 m above sea level. Nearly 800 trekkers used to travel through here during the peak season of March and April but this year there were barely 100 tourists in the same period. The region is not known as a Maoist “hotspot” but local people blame the lack of visitors to their valley on scaremongering about the extent of the conflict.
“The situation is getting desperate for us as we have not been able to find tourists to work with. I need to find a new job quick,” said Rabi Lama, a Jomsom tourist guide.
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