By Sangam Prasain
Kathmandu, Jan 3 (efe-epa).- The number of foreign tourists in Nepal plunged more than 80 percent in 2020, the lowest level in 34 years, according to official figures released on Sunday, as the coronavirus pandemic hit global travel.
According to the statistics by the Department of Immigration, 230,085 foreign tourists visited the country last year, which the government of the Himalayan nation had announced as “Visit Nepal 2020” to draw two million visitors.
“The arrival figure is far worse than the downturn during the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) and the 2015 earthquakes combined,” Dhananjaya Regmi, chief executive officer of the Nepal Tourism Board, told Efe.
“But we hope to rebound by mid-2021.”
In 1996, the then Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) declared a “people’s war” against the “ruling classes,” which included the monarchy and mainstream political parties.
As a result, tourist arrival to Nepal dropped to 275,468 individuals in 2002, the peak time of the conflict, from 491,504 arrivals in 1999.
The Civil War, which ended after a peace deal between the government and Maoist insurgents in 2006 left more than 17,000 people dead.
It was only in 2007 when Nepal, for the first time, received tourist in a half a million mark.
Then the Nepal tourism industry suffered the 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people.
That time, the arrivals plunged by 32 percent to 538,970.
The arrivals crossed the coveted one-million mark for the first time in 2018 with 1.17 million foreign tourists visiting the country.
Tourism is crucial to Nepal as spending from foreign tourists amounted to 8 percent of GDP and provided direct and indirect jobs for 1.05 million people in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council research report.
“We hope foreign visitors will return this spring [April-June], one of the country’s high tourist season,” Naresh Bhattarai, a Pokhara-based tourism entrepreneur, told EFE.
“As vaccine is now approved in many countries, it could change travel. This could be a big respite for the countries whose economies are based on tourism.”
The Nepal government last year in March stopped issuing on-arrival tourist visas to nationals of all countries.
It also canceled spring mountaineering expeditions including Everest missions.
The decision came a day after the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, and urged countries to take precautionary measures.
From Oct.17, Nepal cracked the door open for trekkers and mountaineers. According to the department, between April and October, 3,059 tourists visited Nepal.
But it was only from the first week of December that Nepal opened the doors to foreign tourists after keeping them out for nine months as the country battled the pandemic.