Nepal’s tourism industry is close to collapse: not a single climb on Everest in 2020. In recent years, the number of foreign tourists entering Nepal has steadily increased, as have those climbers who planned to conquer the world’s highest peak. While in 2004 about 150 climbers made successful ascents of Everest, in 2019 already 876 people have climbed 8,848 life-threatening meters to get to the top of the world.
The government of Nepal planned a lucrative tourism season this year and invested heavily in the “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign. This included the construction of several hotels, including world-renowned chains, at the foot of Mount Everest. The coronavirus pandemic completely derailed these ambitious plans. “Economically, the pandemic has had a very heavy impact on the people of the country,” Tsering Pande Bhote, owner of a major travel campaign in Kathmandu and a seven-time Everest conqueror, told nine.com.au. According to Bhote, many Sherpas and climbers rely on money earned during the two short (spring and fall) climbing seasons to feed their families throughout the year. Now they are completely deprived of this opportunity.
The closure of the borders and the absence of foreign tourists has paralyzed the climbing, trekking and mountain tourism industry in Nepal. Unlike in many countries, Nepal has no domestic tourism market and all of its revenues come from foreigners. Thousands of families who rely on the climbing and trekking ecosystem are in danger of financial ruin. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Nepal is the poorest state in Asia. By some estimates, a quarter of its 28 million people live below the poverty line, earning less than a dollar a day. The country’s government, meanwhile, has taken the unusual step of calling on administrations of hundreds of the country’s hotels to pay its 300,000 workers at least 12.5 percent of their normal wages, 9 News reported.
Foreign experts estimate that despite the fact that there have been no deaths from the coronavirus in the country and only 278 cases of infection have been recorded, Nepal has very limited capacity to prevent a medical disaster. For example, only emergency diagnostic tests, not polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, are available in the country. Studies show that a rapid diagnostic test that tests only antibodies in the blood may not be reliable enough. In addition, the country has traditionally experienced a large uncontrolled migration of citizens from one region of Nepal to another, which could lead to an outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the near future. As The Diplomat notes, the Nepalese authorities should therefore enforce stricter lockdowns and intensify efforts to test the population and isolate citizens.