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Coronavirus panic hits tourism in Kathmandu

Last updated on: March 14, 2020 11:52 IST
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'Fear of this virus has created havoc. No one want to take risks by visiting.'
Imran Khan reports from Thamel in Kathmandu.

IMAGE: The Buddha Bar in Thamel, Kathmandu. Photograph: Imran Khan

Dambar Pun curses coronavirus that has badly hit his bar's business in Thamel, a hub of foreign tourists in Kathmandu.

He is one of hundreds of Nepali businessmen who blame the fear of coronavirus for the poor turnout of foreign tourists, particularly from China and Europe.

Even the number of Indian tourists has reduced.

Pun, a young man who runs the Buddha Bar in a narrow lane of Thamel, expresses his dismay over the few foreign tourists seen on the streets.

"Coronavirus's fear has affected us dearly. Chinese tourists are not coming since February and few European tourists are visiting. Look, my bar is empty," says Pun.

'Last year at this time, my bar used to be crowded with foreigners till late night," Pun adds.

IMAGE: Empty streets in Thamel. Photograph: Imran Khan

Thamel's streets are filled with shops and restaurants.

But the heart of the tourist industry in Kathmandu -- Thamel -- has few foreign tourists these days.

"Coronavirus has hit tourism," says Rajesh Shreshta who owns a cafe in Thamel. "With foreigners not coming, there is no business for us."

IMAGE: Children, wearing masks as a precaution after Nepal confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country, at the Matribhumi school in Thimi, Bhaktapur, Nepal. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

The first case of coronavirus was detected in Nepal on January 23. The World Health Organisation says Nepal lacks proper healthcare institutions for treatment and diagnosis of coronavirus.

The Nepal government has initiated an awareness campaign and is taking measures to check the spread of coronavirus.

Only one case of cornavirus has been detected in Nepal so far.

The Nepal government has temporarily suspended arrival on visas to Nepal for five countries -- China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan -- which have been badly affected by the COVID-19 virus.

IMAGE: Empty shops in Thamel. Photograph: Imran Khan

According to Pun, who also owns a hotel in Pokhara, another tourist hub in Nepal, the number of foreign tourists drastically declined after the spread of coronavirus.

Taking note of the situation following the coronavirus outbreak, the Nepal government recently deferred tourism promotional activities planned as part of Visit Nepal Year 2020.

It is a big blow for the Visit Nepal Year campaign under which the Himalayan republic hoped to attract 2 million foreign tourists, almost double foreign tourists arrivals in 2019.

IMAGE: A monk wears a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus outbreak in Kathmandu. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

During the Visit Nepal Year, Nepal's biggest hope for meeting the target of foreign tourists inflow rested on arrivals from India and China, the two largest source markets for Nepalese tourism.

In 2019, Nepal attracted 254,150 Indian tourists and 169,543 Chinese tourists.

After the coronavirus outbreak, most flights between China and Nepal were suspended.

Chaturman Lama, a taxi driver who ferries tourists from Thamel, says the tourist season has begun in Kathmandu, but few tourists are coming.

"It is bad for us," says Lama. "Our main customers are foreigners. Fear of this virus has created havoc. No one want to take risks by visiting. Even local people are avoiding crowded places."

IMAGE: A scene from the streets of Nepal. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

A hotel manager reveals that the spread of coronavirus has led to cancelation of bookings by tourists, mainly from China and Europe followed by India.

"In the last two weeks we have received several e-mails for cancelation of bookings," he says. "What can we do? We are helpless."

"Ahead of Holi, Chinese tourists thronged here, but they are not coming," says Narayan Prada Pandey who owns a handicraft shop.

"We hope European tourists will come after Holi," adds Pandey. "Our business depends on foreign tourists. Without them, there is nothing."


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