Ecotourism in the Crossfire of Conflict

Ecotourism in the Crossfire of Conflict

Nepal Ecotourism

By Hum Bahadur Gurung, Griffith University


The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is a breathtakingly beautiful country, and its people have been peacefully united for over 240 years. The country, however, has been facing immense challenges in recent years, as Maoist insurgencies have escalated throughout the country, and the King has seized power and reestablished the monarchy.


International tourist arrivals have decreased in recent years in response to the media reports on political instability in Nepal. While over 490,000 tourists visited the country in 1999, the figure dropped to 266,000 in 2003, and then increased to just over 288,000 in 2004. Although tourists are slowly coming back to Nepal, popular trekking areas like the Annapurna Conservation Area as well as major national parks, such as the Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) and the Royal Chitwan, have been visited by only about half the number of visitors they used to receive.


The ecotourism industry not only makes significant contributions to Nepal’s economy, but also has great potential to enhance the country’s biodiversity conservation efforts. Experiences in Nepal reveal that ecotourism and conservation have a symbiotic relationship. Protected areas, which cover over 21% of the country, have been important ecotourism destinations.


The agencies engaged in conservation in protected areas in Nepal have been committed to delivering the best tourism opportunities while ensuring the visitors’ safety, and most visitors to these areas have enjoyed their experiences without any serious problems. However, the decline in the number of visitors and the revenues generated from them has had negative impacts on the integrated conservation and development work in those areas. It has also directly affected the hotel and lodge owners especially along the main trekking routes.


The drop in the number of tourists in Nepal is partly due to the failure, on the part of the government and the tourism industry, to disseminate appropriate information. Unfortunately, even though tourists have not been targeted by the Maoist violent forces, it is difficult to get the message across to international travelers and tour agencies, who tend to prefer alternative destinations when uncertain about the situation in Nepal.


In addition to the decline in visitor numbers, conservation agencies have faced the challenge of managing and monitoring nature conservation programs, due to the frequent threat from the Maoist insurgencies. For instance, the anti-poaching activities in the Royal Chitwan National Park have been disrupted as the Royal Nepalese Army personnel has been mobilized to counter the Maoists insurgencies, reducing the army check posts in the park. As a result, poaching of wildlife has significantly increased, and in the past five years, 94 one-horn rhinos (out of the 544 detected in a 2000 survey) were killed by poachers.


Although it may be too early to assess the long-term impact of the King’s takeover of executive power in February 2005 on tourism in Nepal, it is clear that the international community’s immediate reaction, including numerous travel advisories against travel to Nepal, has negatively affected those involved in tourism and the conservation efforts in protected areas in Nepal.


The state of emergency that was imposed on 1 February 2005 was lifted in May. Recently, the government mobilized its diplomatic channels to promote the tourism industry. It is hoped that this strategic move, along with the announcement of a three-month unilateral ceasefire by the Maoists insurgents on 3 September, will help bring peace and stability to Nepal and revive tourism and the integrated conservation and development efforts in the country.


Mr. Hum Gurung is a Ph.D. Candidate at Griffith University, Australia. His research focuses on the historical analysis of protected area management system for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in Nepal. He was associated for ten years with the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and seven years with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal as National Programme Manager for implementation of Nepal's Capacity 21 Programme.


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