It has been a turbulent year for tourism in Nepal. Following the tragic avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas on Mt. Everest, the country has been grappling with ways to make adventure travelers safer while visiting the Himalaya. Last week, the government agreed to make some changes to the way it operates in order to achieve its goals. One of the new rules will require that all foreign tourists trekking in the mountains will now be required to have a local guide with them at all times.
This shift in policy comes after Nepal’s Joint Tourism Coordination Committee (JTCC) has been meeting for the past two months with the expressed goal of getting the Nepali government to improve conditions not only for travelers, but for guides as well. The requirement for employing a local guide is just one of the demands that the committee was seeking. It has also gotten the government to create a welfare fund for porters, and launch an investigation into “financial irregularities” by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
Perhaps most importantly of all, it appears that the JTCC has also been able to oust Subash Niraula from his role as head of the NTB. There has been some indications of corruption on the board for awhile, but Niraula has been entrenched in that position for a number of years. Having him removed from the board may allow the country to move ahead with plans to improve tourism and making it more secure for visitors.
Unfortunately, Nepal has a history of paying lip service to a problem, without actually addressing it. In fact, this ins’t the first time that the country has announced that local guides would be required for trekkers, although it appears that when hose rules were instituted in the past, they were eventually ignored. Similarly, there have been a lot of promises in regards to oversight on Everest as well, but it seems that when the avalanche hit this spring, those promised changes were not in place either, which caused issues with coordinating search and rescue operations, while bogging down communications with Kathmandu.
Nepal is a wonderful, wild country that has a lot to offer adventure travelers and mountaineers alike. I applaud any efforts to make things safer there, as I think it is a place that everyone should see. But the problems don’t begin when travelers hit the trail. They start in the halls of government there, where corruption and greed have helped to delay, or even prevent, real change from happening. Hopefully this current round of changes will have a lasting impact, but you’ll excuse me if I have a few doubts.
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