July 9: The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the tourism sector the hardest in Nepal. The entire star and non-star hotels across the country are closed, flights are suspended, and travel agencies have become workless in a matter of four months. But what is the actual damage to the sector due to the global health crisis? This is a baffling question because the government doesn’t have credible data.
Three days ago, tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai said that the tourism sector ha incurred a monthly loss of Rs 10 billion during the lockdown period. Speaking at a press conference he estimated that by mid-July the overall loss to the tourism sector would be Rs 41 billion. However, this is a random assessment because the ministry does not have comprehensive data on the amount of damage in different areas of tourism. The government also does not have any official data on how many people lost their jobs from the tourism sector due to Covid-19 pandemic, and how much loan do the tourism entrepreneurs have.
On the basis of a study conducted by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the ministry estimated the loss and said at the press conference. Bhattarai claims that the details of the loss in the tourism sector have been sent to the Ministry of Finance and National Planning Commission. A committee was formed by NTB and Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to study the loss in tourism and aviation sector.
However, the study of the Board does not find anything other than a general study of investment and employment in the tourism sector. The report submitted by the board to the MoF does not provide data on how much the sector has lost due to the corona and lockdown. According to a study conducted by the board, more than Rs 1 trillion has been invested in Nepal's tourism sector (including the aviation sector).
Ministry spokesperson Rudra Singh Tamang said that the Ministry of Tourism has estimated the amount of damage as per the details sent by the board and further study is being done by the National Planning Commission. According to private organizations affiliated with tourism, the damage in the tourism sector is much more than the government's claim. Based on the data provided by the private sector, the tourism sector has suffered much more than the government's estimate.
Binayak Shah, senior vice-president of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), argues that due to lack of official data from the state and proper coordination with the private sector, there are no reliable figures on the loss. "We have official statistics about organisations affiliated with us. In the three months of the lockdown, the hotel industry has lost more than Rs 2.5 billion in a month. Even after calculating that, we have to bear a loss of more than Rs 10 billion,” he said.
According to Manoj Karki, general secretary of the Airlines Operators Association of Nepal, the domestic aviation has lost between Rs 7-10 billion in the last three months. "Combining the international flights and government flag carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation, the loss is likely to increase," states Karki.
Similarly, according to Khum Bahadur subedi, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, the trekking and mountaineering sector has lost more than Rs 15 billion. The Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal (REBAN) has also estimated that 3,500 restaurants in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan have suffered losses of Rs 9-10 billion during the period. President of REBAN Araniko Rajbhandari said the estimated loss would be much higher if other restaurants across the country that are not connected with the organisation.