An aerial view of Pokhara city. (Republica file photo)
POKHARA, Sept 27: There is little excitement in Pokhara, one of the top tourist destinations in the country, while the world is celebrating 37th tourism day. Tourism entrepreneurs are disappointed with the number of tourists they are catering to this year. The numbers have failed to grow since they fell last year due to the earthquake and the Indian blockade.
Earthquake last April had badly affected this beautiful city as well. One of the worst hit areas was the tourism industry. As if that was not enough, the Indian economic blockade and the subsequent fuel crisis for months had brought restaurants, hotels and small eateries to a grinding halt. Tourism entrepreneurs put loss from both of these catastrophes at billions of rupees. Though that all is over now and the nation is moving ahead, the tourism sector continues to reel under the void created by both of those events.
“There are very few tourists along the lakeside. Hotels and lodges are not packed,” said Bharatraj Parajuli, president of Western Regional Hotel Association. “Tourism has not been able to recover much from the earthquake and the blockade,” he said.
He added that many businesspersons and tourism entrepreneurs had gone bankrupt during the blockade and the earthquake as they were not able to endure the financial pressure created by the adverse situation. Though some of them re-ventured into the arena, things have not been as rosy as they were earlier.
“Only a very few could restart their businesses post blockade. Had there been good flow of tourists later, many would have seen bright prospects or hopes in tourism,” Parajuli said. He added occupancy rate of hotels in Pokhara nowadays is around 30 percent, including domestic and international tourists. “Considering the fact that this is best season for tourists to visit Nepal, the occupancy rate is very lower.”
A group of Chinese tourists in Kalika village of Pokhara in this undated photo.]
Such grim performance of the sector is going to further hit many entrepreneurs and may push some more out of the sector, Parajuli analyzed. “We were expecting respite from the direness of tourists during this season. But it has not been so and this is definitely not a good sign,” he said opining that “Given the grim outlook of the sector, more hoteliers and tourism entrepreneurs might bow out of the sector in the days ahead.”
Generally the occupancy rates of tourists in Pokhara's hotels during this season used to be around 60 percent. Tourists from China, India, USA and European countries would throng in to enjoy the beauty of Pokhara. Similarly, domestic tourists were adding to the profit. However, things are not that well since 25 April last year, when the devastating earthquake had hit the country, Parajuli noted.
“With only 30 percent of tourists staying here, businessmen won't be able to bear the cost of the facilities they provide. We need more tourists and that too without much delay,” he said.
Apart from the natural disaster and the foreign economic blockade, Parajuli points to the pathetic road conditions, poor airways service and lack of several other important infrastructures as factors affecting Pokhara's tourism industry. Even if tourists get to Kathmandu easily, their journey henceforth to other tourist destination across the country is not smooth, he claimed. “During Dashain we might see a surge in the number of domestic tourists but some foreigners might not be willing to make risky journey that are full of hassles,” adding that lack of necessary facilities and travel hassles has become a huge turn off for foreigners for traveling to Pokhara from Kathmandu.
He warned that decline of tourism in Pokhara will affect the entire tourism business of the country. “If such problems continue to persist in Pokhara, the country is going to lose billions of rupees along with putting the entire tourism sector on verge of collapse.”
Dilli Prasad Gautam, President of Nepal Association of Tours and Travel Agents (NATTA), Western Regional Association stated that lack of enthusiasm seen on world tourism day is indeed a bad sign. “It's really worrisome. Scanty presence of tourists even during the peak season has badly shaken the hope of entrepreneurs,” he said adding bookings for next month were also not promising. “In the past, hotels would be fully booked for October. But the reservations so far have been disappointing for it too.”
Except a few, hotel rooms in Pokhara are empty. Markets and other tourism spots are not crowded as they used to be in the past. From street vendors to big shops and malls, everyone's business is running in loss. “It is not only the hoteliers who are feeling the pinch. It's a chain effect, even small shopkeepers and vendors are worried,” Gautam said.
Som Bahadur Thapa, president of Pokhara Tourism Council stated that even trekking and mountaineering could not pull tourists to Pokhara and stressed on the need to make new strategies instead of following traditional ways to woo travelers. “We are already late. We need to explore out noble ways to attract tourists. We need to revamp our methods,” he suggested. “We have to churn out ways for attracting more tourists to the town by considering both the internal and international tourists. If we are not going to explore new tourism products now, we are not going to get any more tourists. The government should also bring programs to boost tourism sector,” he added.