Adventure travelers leading way in Nepal’s tourism recovery
By Michelle Baran :: Tourism arrivals to Nepal have dropped by as much as 85% since two massive earthquakes struck the country within the past month, according to the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO). But the avid trekkers who accounted for much of the country’s tourism dollars prior to the quakes are helping pave Nepal’s path to recovery with requests for trips that combine trekking and voluntourism efforts.
“Essentially there was a great exodus of tourists following that first quake, as was to be expected, and the in-flow [of tourists] sort of stopped almost immediately,” said Ashok Pokharel, president of NATO.
He said a tourism recovery committee has been formed to determine the way forward for Nepal’s tourism sector.
Surveys of the country’s cultural and natural assets are underway, including of its Unesco World Heritage Sites and trekking routes, to assess the damage and communicate that information to tour operators, travel agents and potential visitors.
In the meantime, the adventure travel community is leading the charge to bring travelers back to Nepal, with a focus on helping the country rebuild. The Himalayas, with their dramatic beauty and challenging treks, have long drawn this group.
“We’ve received an overwhelming response from the public wanting to assist,” Canadian adventure travel company World Expeditions said in a statement.
The company is assembling a series of voluntourism projects that will run from September through April 2016, ranging from four days to three weeks in length, combining a community assist project in Nepal with a trek.
Nepali adventure tour operator Ace The Himalaya has already assembled such a program in partnership with the Clymb, a Portland, Ore.-based outdoor gear and adventure travel seller. The 13-day itinerary includes nine days of trekking and four days of helping to rebuild destroyed villages. Eight departures will be offered, beginning in September and running through May 2016.
Tour participants will help reconstruct villages in the Gorkha region, near the epicenter of the first quake, where trekking volunteers will provide “priceless sweat equity along with much-needed dollars to help purchase construction supplies,” Ace said.
All proceeds from the trips will go to the Sambhav Nepal Foundation, a local organization that is rebuilding villages.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is also planning to bring its Adventure Week event to Nepal this year to reignite Nepal’s adventure-tourism economy.
“We believe that the next six to 12 months will be very difficult for Nepal in general and, for certain, the tourism industry,” said ATTA President Shannon Stowell. “So our effort will go into what we know we can deliver in destination strengthening and business continuity or boosting, specifically focusing on the adventure sector.”
Each year, ATTA’s Adventure Week events draw tour operators, travel agents and media to a destination with adventure travel potential.
The Nepal version will be called Adventure Week Rebound-Nepal and will feature experts in tourism infrastructure, destination recovery, international connectivity and marketing. ATTA has not yet decided on the date.
Australian tour operator Intrepid Travel hopes that it, too, can help jump-start Nepal’s battered tourism industry with the launch of several charity treks for 2015.
An Everest Base Camp trek in October will raise money for the Kathmandu Environmental Education Programme, one of the Nepal-based charities supported by the operator’s Intrepid Foundation.
“Trekkers are the main source of western tourism in Nepal,” said Intrepid Travel’s general manger for Nepal, Nicholas Cowie.
Intrepid is working with its local operations team and international experts to assess the extent of the damage on landforms and on structures in the two main trekking regions of Nepal, with the aim of assessing the tracks as quickly as possible before the monsoon season starts and again before the start of the season in September.
With the summer months being Nepal’s rainy low season, representatives of Nepal’s tourism sector are hoping the country can recapture through the remainder of 2015 some of the losses it sustained this spring.
“The next high season begins in September, and we are all acting to get the show back on the road by then,” Pokharel said. “We know that we will probably lose some numbers overall in 2015, but we also believe that if we are able to show that we have put in place the things needed for a speedy recovery, 2016 should be a year with normal tourism arrivals.”
While that might seem optimistic, tour operators confirmed that Nepal bookings are holding steady for the fall and beyond.
“Being that we are about to enter the monsoon season, we do not have any clients traveling until the fall,” said Sasha Lehman, director of operations and vendor services for Absolute Travel. “We have received a few calls and emails from them, largely expressing concern for Nepal overall, but no one has cancelled as of yet.”
Matt Holmes, director of operations at Boundless Journeys, said that he, too, has not yet seen any cancellations for travel to Nepal this fall, nor even any reluctance on the part of guests to travel there.
“I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised by an optimistic attitude,” Holmes said. “Nepal has always been a compelling destination for travelers, and I do believe this will continue even in the short-term. We will certainly be encouraging travel to Nepal as a way to help the country rebound from such a disaster.”
:: Jayakumar Dimdung and his family lived in a house in Makwnapur, 25 miles southwest of Kathmandu, that collapsed when the earthquake hit. Photo Credit: Plan International. (Source: Travel Weekly).