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Published On: December 23, 2022 01:21 PM NPT By: Republica

Saving Nepal’s Tourism Industry

Saving Nepal’s Tourism Industry

Tourism accounts for 6.7 percent of Nepal’s GDP, as per the latest World Bank report. The tourism industry in Nepal also accounts for direct and indirect employment of over a million people. There is no denying that tourism is crucial for the country’s economy. Unfortunately, the travel industry in Nepal is under threat. 

Most travelers visit Nepal for its biodiversity, mountains, forests and rivers. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in the country are the Everest Base Camp trek, Annapurna Circuit trek, Chitwan National Park safari, and, of course, mountain expeditions. However, in a dramatic catch-22 situation, increased traffic footfall coupled with global warming is threatening the mountains and tourism industry of Nepal. In Everest Base Camp, for instance, it has been well established that increased tourist numbers and impacts of climate change are contributing to the instability of the Khumbu Glacier. 

Human traffic jams on the top of Everest have made headlines around the world, leading to a lot of criticism of trekking companies in Nepal and the tourism model in the Himalayas. Global warming, meanwhile, has led to erratic weather patterns. Unseasonal floods, landslides and snowstorms are making it harder for tour operators to plan and execute hassle-free and smooth tours in Nepal. 

In October this year, during the peak trekking season, unseasonal rains triggered flash floods, landslides, and avalanches. Trekking trails along Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Dolpo, the Annapurna region, and the Everest regions were temporarily closed as news of stranded travelers, and human casualties were reported.

These events go to show that climate change could have a drastic and long-standing impact on Nepal’s tourism industry and economy.

The many rays of hope                                                           

Nepal’s tourism industry is not a lost cause though. There are many local conservation groups and organizations striving to make a difference. For example, on-the-ground efforts of organizations such as EcoHimal have helped collect 8.1 tons of rubbish off the climbing routes of Mount Everest and the wider trekking region in just one year. They have also trained 29 Sherpa mountaineers and 100 porters in solid waste collection, sorting, and treatment while on the mountains. 

Similarly, the protected region of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, is committed to promoting sustainable practices and protecting the native flora and fauna in the area, which covers 7,629 sq km in and around the Annapurna range. These programs could have a lasting impact on the infrastructure and sustainability of trekking in the Himalayas. 

Conservation efforts that work in tandem with local communities tend to have a lasting change. Their impacts can be seen and felt. The Himalayan mountains are one of Nepal’s biggest tourist attractions (and probably the one) so it’s in the economic interest of the country to conserve them.

The Government of Nepal has urged the world leaders in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5℃. Seeing the impacts of climate change on the mountains and, by extension, to the tourism economy, Nepal government has also aimed to keep 45% of the country under forest cover to counteract effects of carbon emissions. This sustainable approach to tourism is central to Nepal’s climate change policy.

Another potential effort to combat the threats is carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting has become something of a buzzword when anything revolving around climate change or global warming is mentioned. Is it the ultimate solution? No. But is it an accessible, viable and affordable solution? Yes. With carbon offsetting, anyone can reduce their carbon emissions by investing in projects that help absorb CO2, through e.g. tree plantation or renewable energy schemes. And by anyone, it means travelers, travel agents, tour operators, airlines, et al. 

Yeti Airlines, for example, has outlined clear steps to become Nepal’s first carbon-neutral airline. It’s a four-part plan that measures impact, reduces it, offsets any emissions, and remains accountable by reporting its action in a public way. They buy credits for carbon emissions and support Nepal-centric environmental organizations. 

Many individual travel agencies and tour companies, locally and globally, also carbon-offset their trips. Bookmundi, a Denmark based global tour-selling platform, calculates the carbon emission of each trip from four primary categories: transportation, accommodation, food and drinks, and activities on their tour. They work out how much CO2 each traveler is going to emit and offsets it as part of their tour service. Not only are they offsetting carbon emissions from all their tours, they are also offsetting the carbon emissions associated with running their servers, website and any laptops or mobiles used to access their website. 

If more local travel companies made a concerted effort to offset carbon emissions both on a community level as well as potentially collaborating with marketplaces like Bookmundi to include such carbon-offsetting practices on their tours, much can be done to combat climate change which is currently a threat to Nepal’s tourism industry. 

You are the light

On an individual level, reducing your carbon footprint is all about voting with your feet — and at times, with the tip of your fingers. Although it can sometimes cost more to go with a sustainable company, your money is going somewhere that is making a meaningful difference. That might be on an environmental level, giving back to the community, or building infrastructure to support locals and workers. Traveling mindfully and choosing companies that align with your sustainable values is important. 

There are also a lot of small but effective measures that you can take on a personal, day-to-day basis, like using reusable water bottles, taking all your rubbish with you when traveling, using recyclable tote bags instead of disposable plastic bags, and traveling in a group. All these little environmental acts will eventually make a difference. When planning your next adventure, think how you can be a force for good and help make the journey more sustainable, also to help your home country.             

(Source: Bookmundi)                          

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