- Mira Acharya, Director, Department of Tourism
The tourism sector has been most affected due to the Covid-19 epidemic which has spread globally.
The tourism sector of our country has fallen to critical situations due to Covid-19. We have lost two tourist seasons for tourism. When it comes to mountaineering, we have closed the entire spring season of 2020.
Looking at it now, I think it would have been better if the season was not closed. If the spring season of 2020 was opened by adopting health security measures, the tourism sector would not have suffered such a huge loss. I think the mountaineering area could have been saved to some extent. At that time, after we found one or two coronavirus-infected cases, we locked down the whole country. Because of that, the workers in the tourism sector had to pay a very high price. They have been completely unemployed since November.
Similarly, it seems that we are not prepared for a major disaster like an epidemic. There was a lack of prior preparation against such a great calamity too.
My office used to issue 15 to 17 mountaineering permits a day. Now, there is a situation to be happy even when issuing some permits. Two teams of Nepali and a Bahrain team have taken permission to go on the expedition. That has made us all happy.
Now, we are slowly opening up. However, there are still some policy reasons that stand as a barrier across the way. For now, there is a policy problem. Although the government has opened up trekking and mountaineering from October 17, it is hard for tourists to come immediately.
According to the protocol issued by the government in this regard, trekkers or mountaineers have to ensure Covid-19 insurance worth USD 5,000. Based on our current inquiries, we have not been able to find any system or global insurance policy to ensure this type of Covid-19 related insurance. We have started discussions on this issue to be resolved.
However, the inquiries that have come to us in the meantime have made me very enthusiastic. It is known that permission for mountaineering is issued by our office and trekking permits issued by Nepal Tourism Board. Even during such an epidemic, encouraging inquiries are coming in. It has made us enthusiastic. Doubts about the future of tourism after Covid-19 have been allayed. There is room for optimism that our tourism sector will be revived and restored soon.
My experience in DoT
I have been leading the mountaineering division in the Department of Tourism for two years. During this period, I realized that the only thing that can make Nepal known to the world is mountaineering. I don’t think any other field has been able to introduce Nepal to the world like this way.
I had the opportunity to see and experience both the spring of 2019 and the 2020 season. In the spring of 2019, a lot of positive and good news about Nepal came into the international media. Since the beginning of the mountaineering season, the entire news of the mountaineering was covered by the international news media. The international media’s attention was drawn to the news up to the rope fixing to world records. Nepal’s name was exposed through this news. Moreover, the news of mountaineering celebrities caught the attention of the world. But in the spring of 2020, I am in this office, and nowhere is there any discussion about Nepal and any coverage of positive news about Nepal. This is known only after comparing the two seasons. Mountaineering is the backbone of tourism and is also a link to the country in the world. Therefore, the concerned government bodies, the private sector, and the media also need to reflect on this. If Nepal’s tourism and Nepal are to be known in the world, mountaineering should be at the center. Only this can introduce the country to the corners of the world.
While saying this, the problems within it should also be discussed. There are also many weaknesses. There is diversity in our mountains. We have not yet been able to better coordinate the same diversity of the mountains.
Here the mountains below 5,800 are considered trekking peaks. The mountains above it are only for mountaineering. From a mountaineering perspective, the peaks below 6,500 meters are also considered as trekking peaks. There is a separate arrangement for mountains higher than 8,000 meters. The highest peak, Mt. Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), is viewed differently. This shows that there is diversification in our mountains and corresponding legal and policy arrangements are needed.
Similarly, the mountains of Nepal are spread from east to west. You have to look at the mountains from Mt. Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) in the east to Api Saipal in the west. Thus, based on height and geographical reasons, Nepal’s mountains are diversified. There are similar problems, which need to be addressed.
Another problem is human resource management. Some people have gained experience in the field of climbing for generations and others have come to this field with good training and education.
There needs to be coordination between these two types of human resources in the market. People who have been born and raised in the high mountainous region and who have come to know the secrets of the mountain by playing with the same mountain, going with the mountaineers from outside, and mingling in the same environment are experienced people. Their wisdom cannot be compared with others. The newcomers are well educated and trained in mountaineering subjects. I find it necessary for both types of guides to share their knowledge and skills. This will help make mountaineering safer and better.
One of the things we knew in the time of the epidemic of Covid-19 is that the information of the workers involved in mountaineering is more organized than others. We have data on how many guides are there and of which level and who went to which mountain. Therefore, it seems that mountaineering can be made more attractive by making it more organized. Nowadays, mountaineers know very little about their guide. Sometimes they are in problem if you do not know whether the guide given by the agencies is good caring or not.
So I think, we need a central information bank for mountaineering guides. Control by the Department of Tourism, the guides have the facility to keep a profile with their information in the system. After creating their profile by logging in, what kind of guide is he, how many mountains has he climbed, whether you have climbed Mt. Sagarmatha (Everest)¬, how many 8000 meters above mountains climbed, there will be information of all sorts. On the one hand, it will make it easier for the climbers to choose their guide; on the other hand, it will make the guide more responsible. In this case, the excellent one will get the job. This is just my thinking right now, I think this kind of facility can be provided.
Another problem is caused by climbers. Especially in recent years, fake climbing scandals of Indian climbers have also appeared. Our law does not imagine, anyone can take wrong intentions even at an altitude of more than 8,000 meters. In that case, doubting seems to mean hurting the climbers. But, what has been known lately is that there is mischief even at that extreme altitude. There is a need to be vigilant in this regard as well. We are preparing to study how to address such issues. There is also talk of GPS tracking. Although it cannot be applied to all the mountains and all the climbers at the same time, there are discussions of starting and gradually applying it to all.
Everest cleanup and world record
One of the most memorable campaigns of my tenure in the Department of Tourism is the Mt. Everest (Sagarmatha) Cleanup Campaign in 2019. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep the mountains clean. Climbers, guides, tourism entrepreneurs, and the state, no one can escape from that. Therefore, legal arrangements have been made to bring back the goods, climbers brought to the Mountains.
However, due to various reasons, garbage has been released in the mountain and there are discussions about the issue from time to time. It is also natural to raise issues. As the state is the guardian of everything, the state should not remain silent on such issues. The government should also lead the protection, development, and cleaning of the mountains.
In the meantime, we discussed the issue of mountain cleaning with the then Director-General. It was said that there is no budget in this regard. On the occasion of International Mt. Everest Day, we saved Rs. 200,000 from the management expenses. That’s where it all started. Many state entities and organizations came to join us. The Department of Environment, Nepal Army, Nepal Mountaineering Association, Khumbu Pasang Lhamo rural municipality, Nepal Tourism Board, Sagarmatha National Park, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, and many others were involved in this campaign.
With the efforts of everyone, garbage was collected and we were able to excavate and bring back the four corpses that had been lying on Mt. Everest for years.
I still went to Mt. Sagarmatha (Everest) base camp to monitor and work together. The task of removing the corpses was not easy. However, I am proud and happy to be able to do that. Also, the world record of garbage collection from the same campaign was set. I was even happier the day the certificate came.
Some have also made negative comments in this regard. There have also been comments of self-dumping garbage and setting a world record for cleaning it. In my opinion, the world record is not everything, but the recognition of the work we have done. What we have done this time has been a policy matter. For the year 2020, even though the amount is small, the amount for mountain cleaning has been allocated by the government budget. It has a long term effect. The work of cleaning the mountains will be continued.
Post Covid-19 Mountaineering
Many studies from around the world indicated that post-Covide-19 tourism means trekking and mountaineering. This is the summary given by various studies. Therefore, I see the possibility of trekking and mountaineering especially in the situation after the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are some issues for the government, entrepreneurs, and climbers themselves to consider.
The government has to take some favorable policy. At present, it is very tough to issue a permit due to the protocol issued by the government. It is said that the coronavirus insurance system of USD 5,000 is not available and appreciable internationally. In such a situation, the government has to go for alternatives by making life insurance instead of coronavirus insurance or by involving insurance companies in Nepal. Similarly, the services provided by government agencies should be fast and efficient.
Some issues need to be addressed by the business community. According to what I have read, the cough in the mountains, and the cough caused by Covid-19 are the same, so it seems that it can cause panic. Therefore, agencies need to pay special attention to the issue of consulting a doctor and adopting health protection measures when necessary. Special attention should also be paid to the health of the client in such a situation and the health risks he or she may pose to Nepali society.
Not only the government and Agencies but also the climbers themselves have to think about the same issues. As long as there is a risk of Covid-19, they have to follow some rules.
Walking freely like previously they can endanger not only him/her but others as well. Since trekking and mountaineering are far away from human settlements, you have to make the idea of wandering in isolation. Guides should not be changed in between. Everyone should be ready to take health-protective measures.
In this way, trekking and mountaineering in Nepal can be opened despite the risk of Covid-19 with the caution and efforts of the government, companies, and climbers.
With all safety protocols, the tourism business should open for the livelihood of the workers associated with it. I believe that trekking and mountaineering in Nepal will be restored soon. Everyone should join hands in hands.
– Nepal Parbat, Vol 19/No.22/February 2021
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