Pokhara, the tourist town that serves as the main attraction for foreigners visiting Nepal, has been in the news in the last fortnight for casualties and injuries. On March 3, a 32 years old Romanian citizen died in a paragliding accident. The solo pilot lost his control in course of landing and plunged into the Fewa Lake. A day later, a Portuguese paraglider sustained injuries in a similar crash. The accident happened after he came into contact with the high voltage electric transmission line. Another glider, a Russian, fell into a tree and got injured. More recently, police and local boatmen rescued 14 people, including seven foreigners, when seven paragliders crashed into Fewa following a sudden strong wind that caused the pilots to lose control. They included Chinese, Singaporean and other foreign tourists. These are troubling signs. Following these incidents, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) announced a 15-day ban on solo paragliding to prevent deaths and injuries. Paragliding is perhaps the most preferred adventure sport for tourists visiting Pokhara but it does not seem to be safe for them.
Such incidents, along with helicopter crash that took place last month, have sent bad message about safety of tourists in Nepal. Thus it is urgently necessary for the government to address these issues because much-awaited Visit Nepal 2020 is approaching. The government aims to attract as many as two million foreign tourists to the country by that year. And there have been encouraging signs toward this direction. According to the recent data compiled by Department of Immigration (DoI) and released by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), tourist arrivals hit a record 1.17 million in 2018—a growth of 24.77 percent compared to 2017. Arrivals from SAARC countries witnessed significant growth of 26.4 percent in 2018. Tourist arrival from India has increased by 25.1 percent and that from China rose by 46.8 percent. The number of American and European tourists has also sharply increased, compared to last year. This has trickled down to rising hotel occupancy. According to Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), average room occupancy at member hotels of HAN rose by 20 percent in 2018. The government needs to ensure that this figure continues to rise but that won’t happen unless we improve safety measures in adventures such as rafting, boating and paragliding.
While it is important to create necessary infrastructure to cater to the needs of expected two millions tourists, Nepal needs to focus on safety measures and ensure that no tourist coming to Nepal will get injured while in Nepal. Since the demise of Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari in a helicopter crash on February 14, the ministry remains leaderless. There is a visible lack of leadership to give further boost to our tourism industry. The government needs to appoint a new tourism minister as soon as possible. It needs to use all its powers to promote Visit Nepal 2020 in and out of the country. But first of all, safety of tourists must be guaranteed. That will surely contribute to making Visit Nepal 2020 successful.