Nepal, one of the most underprivileged in the world, was struck by a strong 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, April 25. It has killed over 5,000 people and still counting. It wrought havoc on tourism as it leveled historic areas of Kathmandu that draws hundreds of thousand tourists year after year.
Being heavily reliant on tourism, the nation faces a grim future. In 2014, there were about 800,000 tourists that brought in some 4.5 per cent of its meager $66 billion GDP. It was a much needed income to the cash-strapped Nepal that is still recovering from the reeling effect of a decade long unrest. Tourism, the nation’s silver lining was expected to bring in more for 2015; an increase by about 5.8 percent.
With most of the tourists heading to Nepal to tour cultural sites such as the Buddhist temples, to scale Everest and other lofty mountains and to explore the pristine wilderness of the Himalayas, those plans need to wait. Such is the image that comes to mind when you read reports in the wake of the earthquake, such as NBC NEWS’ Nepal Earthquake: Quake Deals Blow to Nepal’s Landmarks and Tourism written by Harriet Baskas.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO working to uphold, support and preserve heritage sites around the world said, “I am deeply aggrieved by the magnitude of human loss caused by the earthquake in Nepal. I am also shocked by its devastating impact on the unique cultural heritage in the country.”
UNESCO, according to Bokova, is preparing “to send a mission to assist national and local authorities as to how it can conserve the remaining sites and recover what can be recovered.”
To get a picture of the devastation on the historic sites, here are some accounts:
- “Dozens of temples are reduced to piles of tinder sticks and rubble,” said Joe Bindloss, a Lonely Planet guidebook editor.
- Kathmandu Valley and the renowned Durbar Squares have been extensively damaged. There were also massive damages incurred in the landmark structures at Patan and Bhaktapur, though some principal buildings survived the tragic quake. Dharhara Tower in Kathmandu, a major landmark has been entirely shattered.
- Tourists present during the unspeakable horror are being evacuated safely out of the country. Tour operators are cancelling all forthcoming tours proposing refunds or a change in destinations and itineraries.
- “Currently, large parts of central Nepal are a crisis zone,” said Lonely Planet’s Bindloss, “and tourists are likely to hinder rather than help the relief effort. Though a number of these tourists are genuinely concerned and offering to help. They can get in the way of relief work, than be able to make a significant contribution, particularly when they have no actual experience in such service. “It’s best to donate rather than getting in the way and taking up valuable resources that are needed by local people.”
Mount Everest also took its toll, according to Tom Vater’s Nepal Earthquake: What does the future hold for tourism of Telegraph Travel:
“… The Everest Base Camp is devastated and at least 18 climbers are dead. The outlook for this year’s climbing season, due to start now, is grim. Trekking too is likely to take a hit.”
In fact, tourism in Everest has already been grim having been hit by a snow storm last year that killed about 43 people. Twenty-one of those were trekkers along Annapurna trail. A number of plane crashes in some isolated trekking areas have also scared away some prospective visitors. Despite the rising number of trekkers to the Sagarmatha National Park, located at the base of this loftiest mountain on the planet (from 20,000 in the mid-90s to a record high of 38,000 visitors in 2014), this most recent calamity is likely to deter those planning to come in the coming season.
With the international airport being located in Kathmandu and with the current devastation, visiting the country is a very unattractive prospect. Many of these visitors are now changing their plans. If you are amongst them, it will be good to do the same in the wake of the earthquake, but do come at some later dates. Nepal needs its tourists to bolster its economy, provide jobs and feed its people.