tourism as an indicator of tragedy

The Kathmandu post recently published a short article on the dramatic downfall of tourism arrivals in Nepal.

Seems really bad isn’t it. The earthquake and its aftermath (which includes a lot of political unrest) has resulted in a near 32% drop of arrival numbers for 2015, setting the country back six years. That’s what the graph shows you.

It doesn’t show you the longer-term picture:

This graph makes for an interesting visualization of the country’s developmental stagnation. Numbers in the 60s to the late 70s are very low, despite Kathmandu being a highlight of the hippie trail. ‘Despite’ is probably the wrong connector here because exotic travel entered general public consciousness  (i.e. beyond the purview of the elite) earlier than it expressed itself in many commoners actually crossing far away borders. Nevertheless, numbers steadily increase until they plateau late 70s for nearly a decade. The rise starts again in the mid 80s continuing to the early aughts. Small blips: 1989, with an unruly period before the King gave in (1990) to a people’s movement demand to become a constitutional monarch, and allow democratic elections (1991), and 1993, for which I have no immediate reason up my sleeve. Despite the start of the maoist guerrilla war in the mid-90s the house only comes crashing down when they intensify their efforts immediately after the massacre of the royal family by the crown prince (2001). An even more dramatic drop than post earthquake. My former company, the Summit Hotel hardly survived. They start recovering in 2004, plateau for 2005-2007, the years of the Peace negotiations and political settlement, shoot to a high in 2008, despite a maoist victory in the post peace agreement elections, but then immediately plateau again when political stalemate is the order of the day again.

So 2015 were back at 2008 levels, which were the highest ever until then. Set back yes, but not too bad? Well, for a country that is so dependent upon tourism and has such potential, the numbers are paltry, even at their highest. One would expect that a place with unique selling points like eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, unrivaled infrastructure to frollick about in that mountainscape (granted, safety and such not always part of the package) loads of heritage (granted, also loads disappearing), a supersized ritual calendar that is still very much alive (a sure ticket to fulfilled expectations for anyone seeking the ‘authentic’), some major Hindu pilgrimage sites that are magnets for Indian visitors, and the birth place of Gautama Buddha, a potential peer to Jerusalem, Mecca or Rome, would manage a little better than 540,000 yearly arrivals (or 803,000 for that matter)?

My home country, The Netherlands received 850,000 foreign visitors during the Easter weekend of 2012. A country like Pakistan has more yearly foreign arrivals than Nepal. Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar have managed to increase their arrivals tenfold (Myanmar), nearly twentyfold (Cambodia), fourtyfold (Laos), from baselines, similar in magnitude to Nepal’s arrivals in 1995 (with the exception of Laos that started off with 60,000). Cambodia, with one single highlight, the Angkor era temples near Siem Riep, on a population of 15 million (Nepal: 28) now hosts more than  4.5 million visitors (2014), Laos, on a population of 7 million, and without any specific world wonder kinda highlight, manages to attract 4.1 million (2014).

Mind you, Nepal’s infrastructure couldn’t handle more, the hotel rooms, airport capacity, etc. all not able to handle the 1 million that has been the policy aim for as long as I can remember. Which is not to say that the current numbers are just fine. The country’s biggest industry is starving.




About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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