solo trekking | Ban | post-pandemic | Tourism industry

Solo trek ban: Implication on post-pandemic tourism industry

The newly introduced guideline prohibits trekking without a licensed guide in view of improving trekkers’ safety, discouraging unauthorised trekking operations, and creating jobs. While some experts downplay the impact on tourism, others raise concerns about short-term effects.

- By Sakshi Agrawal |

Image Source: Andrew Martin from Pixabay
Image Source: Andrew Martin from Pixabay

In early March 2023, the government announced that solo trekking inside the national parks will be banned starting April 1, 2023. While solo climbing has been banned in Nepal, including on Mount Everest, since 2017, the new mandate extends to include trekking too.

However, solo trekking in the Everest region remains an exception. Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality, the local government under whose jurisdiction the region falls, facilitates a separate trek card as provided by local legislation.

Under the new guideline, it is mandatory for all trekkers to “obtain services of licensed trekking guide and to obtain Trekking Information Management Systems (TIMS) card through authorised trekking agencies registered with the Government of Nepal,” the Nepal Tourism Board said in a statement

What was their reasoning? 

The statement mentioned that the new guideline aimed to prevent adverse incidents like lost en route, health issues, and natural disasters, generate employment and discourage unauthorised trekking operations.

The announcement of the ban has sparked debates among experts, who are analysing the potential implications on the tourism industry and the economy as a whole. Some experts argue that it could create employment opportunities, scale up trekking businesses, and formalise the informal sector in line with the arguments presented by the Tourism Board.

Safety concerns

Ensuring safety is one of the primary objectives behind the Tourism Board’s new guidelines.

Reportedly around 5 to 15 trekkers go missing annually in Nepal, mostly solo trekkers.

According to Krishna Prasad Dahal, Senior Vice President at Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), nearly 74 trekkers went missing from the mountains in 2022. However, we couldn’t verify the figure claimed by Dahal.

“They were all going solo: without a guide, without company, without enough information to go up the mountains and unaware about the difficulties and hazards that mountains pose,” he told the_farsight. “The mandatory requirement for a guide will mitigate accidents and disappearances in the mountains.”

“The new provision is that every trekker should take at least one Nepali guide — someone who can speak English, who has knowledge about the altitude, who knows the local people and can suggest to clients the dos and don’ts,” he added.

Those favouring the new rule further argue that trekkers will now be safer from the increasing risks from climate change-led disasters such as landslides and floods which are rising across the Himalayas.

Although the safety rationale behind the new guideline is understandable, some sceptics question how the new rule will impact the country’s tourism industry which is currently in the post-pandemic recovery phase.

Before the pandemic, the industry contributed nearly 7% to the country’s GDP and was one of the largest employers in the country. In 2019, the number of tourists arriving recorded 1.19 million which declined heavily in the aftermath of the pandemic.

According to the Department of Immigration, in 2022, the country welcomed over 615,000 visitors — a substantial increase from 150,625 tourists in 2021 and 183,310 in 2020 as reported in Tourism Board’s annual statistics.

Building on this momentum, the Tourism Board has set an ambitious target of attracting over one million tourists in 2023.

However, Ashutosh Dixit, an economist based in Nepal, believes that the ban will not cause much impact on the tourism sector.

“At the end of the day, it’s not changing the natural trekking route or the infrastructure. It’s more about bringing some add-ons in the process keeping in mind the health and safety of the trekkers,” he added. 

He does express concerns about the potential short-term impact. 

“This rule is a restriction on the free movement of the trekkers, particularly for those coming to Nepal to experience the adventure. And it can be counterproductive for the country’s tourism industry, which is already in a challenging phase post-COVID,” he said.

In fact, with the obligation to hire a guide now that may cost over $25 a day, it will make the trekking more expensive and likely deter free independent trekkers from choosing Nepal.  

Employment opportunities

Another rationale behind the new provision is that it will create more employment opportunities surrounding the tourism industry, particularly for trekking guides.

“Every day, nearly 5,000 people are leaving the country to work in the Gulf. With this new system, we can train our workforce and prevent them from leaving the country. Maybe we cannot persuade all, but to be able to retain even 10 to 30 percent is good for the country,” said Dahal, vice president of TAAN. 

On the other hand, Dixit believes that the government’s approach to looking at employment estimates is a bit flawed.

“They have assumed the new rule will create around 50,000 jobs. The estimate is solely based on the free individual trekker (FIT) statistics, which say that about 46,000 permits were granted in 2019. It is not the best approach to get your estimates,” Dixit added.

Last year, however, reportedly around 22,000 such permits were issued.

Implication on business

Nepal boasts a flourishing trekking industry with a multitude of trekking companies operating across the country both formally and informally. According to Nepal Tourism Statistics 2021, there were 2,821 registered trekking agencies. 

The new rule is expected to scale up the businesses of the registered agencies as trekkers will now have to liaison with them.

According to Krishna Bahadur Pariyar, the owner of Ammonite Adventure & Treks Pvt. Ltd, there is a strong belief that business will increase significantly if the mandatory guideline is effectively implemented.

“Before, many people would come here to trek by themselves. From the business point of view, trekking agencies suffered. If the implementation goes well, we will definitely have more inquiries and business,” he said.

Correction: A second paragraph regarding solo trekking in the Everest region has been added for clarity.

Sakshi Agrawal is a freelance journalist based in Nepal. With a degree in journalism, she has written for various publications like The Himalayan Times, Christian Science Monitor, Newslaundry, The Age, and more.

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