Two years since a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, leaving over 9,000 dead, 22,000 injured, and millions homeless, the fateful date of 25th April 2015 is etched in the minds of many. Two years on, the country is recovering, albeit slowly, and one of its biggest revenue providers, tourism, is on the up.
Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the tremor also wrecked ancient temples, most significantly in the capital Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, left entire neighborhoods in rubble, and saw trekking routes closed for months. With tourism one of the country’s biggest income generators, it had an immediate effect on all those who worked in the industry from sherpas and local trekking companies to hoteliers and tour guides.
Since then, several tour operators have reported a positive turn, such as Intrepid Travel who noted a 97% increase in sales since before the earthquake. A special initiative also raised $750,000 for social projects through profits from Nepal trips, which went towards rebuilding teahouses along trekking routes, rebuilding schools and providing support to social projects. It’s welcome news, and a relief, to the many Nepalis who count on visitors for their livelihoods.
However, despite significant progress in some areas and billions of dollars donated in aid, thousands of citizens are still living in temporary shelters and other rebuilding work is slow. Aid agencies have accused Nepal’s government of hindering their efforts, with accusations of being asked to pay costly fees to approve projects, bribery and even pressure to host meetings in luxury hotels to appease officials. In an article in the Guardian, aid workers also say they organizations also face pressure to partner with charities personally selected by politicians.
Individuals are also directing the way the recovery operates. Raj Gyawali, who owns and runs Social Tours, adapted his responsible travel strategy in response to the earthquake. “Two years on, it seems tourism is back to a steady hum in Nepal although they’re only estimates. Statistics are not Nepal’s forte, but we look to be hitting back to pre-earthquake numbers by the autumn of 2017.”
“We reacted quite fast to the change in the tourism arrivals, realigning our products to target recovery, and show the pride and strength of the Nepali people.”
Raj Gyawali, Social Tours
Nepali born-and-bred, a ‘trade not aid’ approach is at the heart of Gyawali’s company’s swift reaction to the disaster. Already firm believers in the power and importance of tourism as a driver of social tour, Social Tours simply enhanced its product. “We reacted quite fast to the change in the tourism arrivals, realigning our products to target recovery, and show the pride and strength of the Nepali people. We offer new tours like Rise of the Artisan which showcases Nepal’s heritage re-building skills, and Weave Your Own Souvenir, using a ‘trade not aid’ concept of locals taking pride in the recovery. This year, we’re also working with badly hit communities in Bungamati by trying to generate income and promote recovery through cycling tourism.”
Nepal’s resurgence and resilience also made it the number one best-value destination for 2017 on Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in travel’ list last year, and fifth place in their hot list of countries to visit in 2017.
“Travelers seem to have forgotten when the disaster itself hit,” says Gyawali, “and adventure travelers are the first to not care too much about this. Cultural travelers are also slowly coming back in their droves again.”