Tibet Protest Hurts Nepal Tourism


KATHMANDU, NEPAL: The Nepali tourism industry is feeling the pinch of travel restrictions imposed on foreigners in Tibet.

Entrepreneurs said it has started taking a toll on the hard-achieved recovery process.

Trekking agencies said they were losing sizable business opportunities while hotels report a fall in room occupancy.

A huge number of tourists used to travel to Tibet through Kathmandu. March to November is said to be the ideal season for tourists visiting Nepal and Tibet.

It is these tourists who largely kept our tourism sector going even during the off-season--normally extending from May to September, said the tourism entrepreneurs.

For the first time in the past two years, however, Nepal experienced a fall in tourist arrivals in April, which tour operators attributed to the travel ban. The number of visitors declined by 1% to 32,665 individuals. “We would not have seen a downturn in April had travel to Tibet not been banned,” said Suman Pandey, managing director of Explore Himalaya.

He said his company lost half a million dollars worth of business due to the closure. “Our tourism did not suffer as much as other countries experiencing political instability even during the decade-long insurgency because of the Tibet package tours,” he said.

China has closed the region to outsiders since anti-government riots broke out in the capital Lhasa in March. It has cited the need to secure safe passage for the Olympic torch to Mt Everest as the reason for the closure.

Pabitra Karki, managing director of Danphe Travels, public sales agent of Air China, said it was difficult getting tickets to fly to Lhasa last year. “But this time, demand has declined dramatically,” he said.

Karki, who is also general secretary of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, said the falloff in business because of the restriction is a blow to the tourism industry that was beginning to bounce back.

Several trekking agencies said they were deferring mixed package tours as it was still unclear when Tibet would be reopened.

Jyoti Adhikari, president of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal, said 80-90% of the trekking agencies were offering combined tours in Tibet and Nepal. “Nepali porters and guides are also involved in tours in Tibet, the restriction has caused them to lose work,” he said.

Hotels have also been hit. Prakash Shrestha, president of the Hotel Association of Nepal, said, “Tourists on their way to Tibet contributed a substantial chunk to our business.”

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