starting April 2, 2020
Nepali officials are adding visa steps for travelers from five countries experiencing the highest levels of the Coronavirus. The usual process for most visitors is to obtain a visa at the airport once they arrive. Now visitors from five countries, China, Iran, Italy, Korea, and Japan must get their visas before arriving in Nepal. Note, this does not stop visitors from coming to Nepal, only adds an additional step before leaving their home country. Also, by omission, it doesn’t impact any other country.
Confusion Conflicts with Agendas
Senior officials, including the Prime Minister, have been grasping at staws denying that Nepal had been or would be impacted by the virus. The Prime Minister said last month, “‘Nepal is coronavirus free’. It first came from the Prime Minister, who said the virus had entered Nepal but had since “gone away,”” according to the Nepali Times. And then Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai announced that “Nepal was a “coronavirus free zone” and exhorted foreign travellers to come to Nepal without hesitation” per The Kathmandu Post.
At risk is Nepal’s poorly planned Visit Nepal 2020 tourism program aimed at having 2 million tourists this year, an increase of 800,000 visitors. While they have done their usual excellent public relations around the program, as usual, there is no meat, no real different programs or reasons to attract a dramatic increase. But once again, egos and government pride are driving indecisiveness and confusion. This is a good overview of the problems. There are growing calls to cancel the program altogether but the government only announced that all promotion would be halted for the month of March.
Nepal has already been hit hard, hotel occupancy rates in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan have fallen by 70-80 percent, according to news reports. Citing Nepal’s fragile public health system and the lack of adequate response from the Nepal government, the World Health Organization has put Nepal at “very high” risk of a Covid-19 outbreak. Nepal continues to report only one case of the virus in the entire country.
As I reported last week, officials tell me they expect the number of climbers to be cut in half on both sides. Nepal issued 382 permits in 2019, but for 2020 less than 250 are now expected. And only 50 on the Tibet side. This does not include support which is about the same as the number of permits issued. Many Chinese climbers plus those from Japan and Korea have already canceled their climbs on the Nepal side. I’m told several operators are switching from Tibet to the Nepal side and a few are considering canceling altogether. There were 876 total summits by all climbers and support on all routes in 2019, and I expect about half that for 2020.
Memories are Everything