Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rafting agencies on the verge of closure

By Dikshya Thakuri, in the Himalayan Times

Kathmandu, March 8:
Entrepreneurs running rafting agencies would be forced to close them down if political instability and the conflict continued to escalate, a rafting entrepreneur has warned. “Out of 80 rafting agencies, 18 are barely operational at present,” said Megh Ale, managing director, Ultimate Descent, and general secretary of the Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA), warning that “they too could fold any minute if the situation didn’t improve.” Owing to the “political instability” and the “ongoing conflict,” the last six months have seen the shutting down of scores of rafting agencies. Most of all, the recent Maoist blockade was the last straw, said troubled entrepreneurs, who have been losing sleep over the drastic slump in the business. “We would be forced to pack up and leave if the situation continued to deteriorate,” said Megh Ale. He added that only the restoration of peace and stability could put an end to the slump. The Maoists have not harmed a single tourist so far, but taking tourists all the way down the white waters of Karnali, Seti Karnali, Bheri in the Western region is next to impossible due to security problems.

“One has to pass through the Maoist-infected areas such as Surkhet and Dailekh to reach the Karnali river, which is unthinkable at present.” Moreover, there is hardly any demand for river rafting in rivers such as Kaligandaki, Bhotekoshi, Seti, Marsyangdi, Sunkoshi. Compared to the last year, business is down by 80 per cent this year. Nonetheless, the entrepreneurs hope that the situation would improve in the four-month peak season, which starts in September.

“All the stakeholders should collectively strive to attract the tourists,” says Surya Joshi, president, NARA, adding: “Most importantly, the Maoists and others should stop calling blockades, bandhas and strikes, as such activities harm the nation’s economy.” Escorting the tourists during bandhs and blockades for rafting is out of question. “Moreover, there were no takers for rafting during the recent blockade, which is perfectly justifiable on the tourists’ part,” Joshi said. “There used to be a time when a lot of tourists would instantly go for rafting outside the valley,” Joshi said, adding that it is difficult to find a single group of willing rafters at present. Hira Gurung, a river guide and former managing director of the Special River Rafting, which is no longer operational, said the slump in the sector had forced him to go for a joint partnership in rafting business in Himanchal Pradesh, India. “I have no choice but to try and make some money in India although I would love to resume my business in the country.”

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