Tap Tourism Prospects
Tourism is the largest service industry in Nepal and a big source of foreign currency earnings and revenue; it is the second main component of economy after agriculture providing direct or indirect employment to nearly half a million people, about 4.0 per cent of the total number of people employed, and generating about 90 billion rupees in revenue that amounts to almost 5.0 per cent of the total gross domestic production of the country. Nepal boasts of eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world and is richly endowed with natural beauty and cultural diversity that draws a significant number of tourists from around the world. Mount Everest, Kathmandu and Pokhara Valley, Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, Muktinath, Annapurna Circuit and Saurha are very popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Figures indicate that Annapurna Circuit that passes along Kaski, Lamjung, Myagdi and Mustang districts is one of the biggest tourist pullers in the country. Tourism entrepreneurs estimate that this sector will see up to 130 thousand tourists this year, compared to 114 thousand visitors in 2016 and 79 thousand in 2015. According to a news report in this daily, Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek has witnessed the highest flow of visitors in history this year. Up to November 10, as many as 26,266 foreign trekkers have been to the ABC, up 25 per cent compared to last year. Along with foreigners, over 1,600 domestic tourists, 5,600 guides and 8,300 porters have also reached the area till date. In 2016, some 22,100 trekkers had come for ABC trekking, which was a 38 per cent increase compared to the previous year when the number of trekkers to ABC had nosedived due to the devastating Gorkha Earthquake in April 2015.
The increase in the number of tourists is indeed a good news; it will increase employment opportunities and generate higher amount of revenues. However, the few existing hotels are having a hard time to accommodate the increasing number of tourists. For example, there are only four hotels at ABC which can accommodate a maximum of 200 tourists per day. Often tourists are unable to get hotel rooms there. The obvious solution to the problem is to construct new hotels or increase the number of rooms to cater to the growing needs. However, tourism entrepreneurs wishing to expand their physical facilities need to get a permit from the government which is currently on hold in consideration of the negative impacts such construction may have on environment. The government concern about the environment is justified. But the construction of hotels and expansion of physical facilities for tourists cannot be put on hold for good. There is always a solution to the problem and it is the responsibility of the government to find the best possible way out. It seems the government is already working towards this. A three-member committee has been studying the matter and the process to issues licenses to hotels on the route to expand their facilities will reportedly move forward after the conclusion of provincial and federal elections. The government should issue permits to allow construction for increasing the number of hotel rooms, but safeguards should be taken to prevent an adverse impact on environment. As an option, the government is mulling to issue permit for community lodges rather than individual ones. Maybe that will solve the problem; what actually matters is tourists get accommodation and other services they require irrespective of who owns a hotel.