Two incidents of the past week in Nepal are deeply worrying for the prospects of tourism at a time when the country is celebrating Visit Nepal 2020 during which Nepal aims to bring in as many as two million tourists. Both incidents are related to death of tourists. On Friday, massive avalanche hit the Deurali area of Annapurna Rural Municipality-11 in Kaski leaving four South Korean nationals and three Nepalis missing. Rescue operation was halted due to bad weather condition—rescue choppers failed to land in the avalanche area. Then there was another tragedy. On Tuesday, eight Indian tourists including four minors died of suffocation at a resort in Daman of Makawanpur district. These residents of Kerala were in Daman as part of the tour. Unable to withstand chilling weather, the tourists are said to have asked for a big gas heater, which they lit and went to sleep never to wake up. They are said to have died due to lack of ventilation as the doors and windows of the room were locked from inside. Following the incident, Department of Tourism formed a five-member committee to investigate if the resort was following the standards set by the government.
These two tragic incidents raise some serious questions: Were the trekkers provided weather related information before they embarked on trekking? Did our early warning system work? Yes, search and rescue could not take place due to bad weather. But is our rescue system smooth and reliable? The second tragedy—that of deaths of Indian tourists—also raises questions: How well do our hotels take care of guests? How many of the hotels in Nepal are operating as per the standards set by the government? A resort hotel is supposed to have its air conditioning or heating facility inside the rooms. If there were such facilities, the tourists would not have to ask for gas heater, and the tragedy could possibly be averted.
If these two tragedies are to teach the government any lessons there are two. During the visit year, more tourists are expected to come to Nepal and a number of them will go for adventure tourism. Those who go on adventure tourism will have to be provided with accurate information regarding weather, risks of avalanche and other disasters. Besides, our early warning and communication system has to be kept up and running. And in case any untoward incidents happen, we need to have well-equipped team ready for search and rescue. At the same time, the government authorities also need to inspect the hotels to check whether the facilities—including the food and accommodation—they provide are up to the standard. It goes without saying that most hotels tend to comply with the set standards of services only on paper. When we fail to ensure safety and security of tourists who come to visit Nepal, Visit Nepal 2020 is not going to be successful. Besides, it will send a negative message to the aspiring visitors around the world that facilities in Nepal are not up to the mark and trekking in the Himalayas is risky. We worry that the tragedies of this week could prove to be a big setback for VNY 2020. The government needs to take all-out measures to ensure the kind of tragedies that occurred this week will never happen again and that while in Nepal every tourist will be safe and gain the lifetime experiences.