Thursday, June 18, 2015

Travelling to Nepal Post Quake?

17, June 2015

Nepal was hit by an earthquake, however many news stories, foreign offices and individuals forget that out of 75 districts, only 14 have been affected. And, even though the damage in those districts is extensive and devastating, there are many places in the country that have been relatively, or completely unaffected by the earthquake.

This post covers general information, impacts and updates from touristic areas, insurance advice and post-earthquake tours!

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General information for visitors who want to travel to Nepal:

  • The media gives the impression that the whole country is a disaster zone and regularly uses selective pictures of Kathmandu and highly affected areas to do this. The whole country is not a disaster zone and many areas are perfectly okay for tourists to visit.
  • Many areas of Nepal, including areas traditionally visited by travelers, have not been affected. While it is important to acknowledge the devastating tragedy and recognise the substantial ongoing needs of the affected areas, most of Kathmandu, and indeed the majority of Nepal, is certainly not flattened. Life is getting back to normal in the areas that have escaped the impact of the earthquake.
  • Despite damage to historical and cultural monuments, Nepal is still open for business and welcoming tourists.
  • Most major roads and all air transport links remain operational
  • The majority of hotels and restaurants in the tourist areas are back in normal operation.
  • Apart from the trekking regions of Manaslu, Rolwaling, Langtang/Helambu and parts of the lower Khumbu, most other popular trekking areas like Annapurna have escaped widespread damage. Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Nepalese economy, and Nepal needs tourists to come back and visit the country this autumn season.
  • Travel, particularly in developing countries, has always been inherently risky and unpredictable. Using the words ‘safe’ or ‘no risk involved’ in your messaging about Nepal is not appropriate because no matter where you travel to or what you do, nothing has ever been 100% safe.
  • Districts in central Nepal near the epicentre of the April 25 earthquake have been affected and are not appropriate to visit right now. Travel in the unaffected areas (such as those around Pokhara, for example) remains the same as it has always been.
    • The major risks associated with travel to and within the unaffected areas relate to getting into the country and moving around.
    • Most people arrive into Nepal via Kathmandu. Some parts of the city are damaged and should not be visited.  Booking through a reliable operator will ensure the traveller avoids damaged areas and stays in hotels that have been assessed as structurally sound.
    • Landslides on trekking trails and highways have affected travel within the country. There have been an estimated 3000 landslides since the first earthquake, which is as many as the last 5 years combined (ICIMOD).  There is a real concern as to the impact of the upcoming monsoon season on this aspect and visitors should definitely not visit the affected areas.  Operators will have to keep close tabs on the landslide risk.
  • Fewer tourists generally visit during the monsoon season (June – mid-September) although there are areas in the rain shadow of the Himalayas that are often visited during this time of year. (Manang, Mustang, Dolpo etc.).  These regions have not sustained earthquake damage, are open for business and still great to visit.
  • Travel to the rest of Nepal during the monsoon has never been highly recommended and especially now as safety assessments and reconstruction efforts are ongoing in the affected areas. Travel disruptions (or worse) due to landslides on roads/trails have always been a risk of traveling during the monsoon
  • Favourable weather from mid-September onwards has traditionally seen a steady increase in people visiting Nepal for trekking and cultural travel.

Impacts and updates on popular tourist areas and accommodation

  • Even though Namche Bazaar, in the Everest region, was in the headlines after the second earthquake on 12th May, most lodges in the Sherpa capital have been unaffected.
  • The heavy damage in the Everest region has occurred off the main trails, with only few lodges being affected in the main Everest base Camp trekking route.
  • The Sherpa communities are hard at work repairing lodges and trails throughout the Everest region, and it is likely that all will be repaired by October 2015.
  • Miyamoto International, a team of world expert geologists and earthquake engineering specialists will assess the Everest and Annapurna regions post monsoon.
  • An assessment is currently underway in the Manaslu region by a Swiss team of geologists supporting the World Food Program. “Langtang, Rolwaling  and Manaslu & Tsum Region trails are badly affected but rest of trails in Nepal are  not much of a problem – during monsoon season common landslides are expected but this should not affect the accessibility. Everest base camp also open – some damage to villages,” says Erwin Scheibert, Swiss geologist.
  • 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts have been affected with most of the damage concentrating on Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk (including the Arniko Highway), Dhading, Dolakha, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavre and Okhaldunga.
  • PLEASE advise the potential traveller NOT to go to the heavily affected areas for reasons of safety and out of respect for the situation of the people rebuilding their lives in these areas.
  • Travellers can explore other regions, such as Annapurna, Mustang, Humla, Jumla, Dolpo and Kanchenjunga.
  • Chitwan and Bardia National Parks also escaped much damage, and are thus ready to receive visitors.  The birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini, did not incur much damage and is open for visitors
  • Kathmandu’s international airport is fully operational and was only closed for a few hours on 25th April 2015.
  • Even though the media portrayed large-scale destruction in the main sites in Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, a lot of the main temples and UNESCO world heritage sites are still standing and Pashupatinath sustained very little damage.
  • There are many good news stories that are not being told in the media - in Bhaktapur, for example, the Peacock Guest House, a beautiful traditional old house has received the ‘green sticker’ (meaning it is safe) from the safety assessment and the owners are actively involved in making the wider area safe for locals and visitors alike.
  • The Nepal government is currently working on the repair of the UNESCO sites, which have reopened for tourists on June 15th.
  • With unsafe houses and buildings being demolished, the affected areas are gradually becoming safer again for locals and visitors alike.
  • Hotels are being formally assessed for safety and rebuilding work is ongoing
  • An online database has been established where hotels can upload their assessment reports, risk management plans, photos etc. This should be ready by 20th June and updates can be found on the Facebook group (below)
  • Travel entrepreneurs have formed a Facebook group to share updates and initiatives to ‘build back better.”

Insurance and post-earthquake tours information

  • Anyone traveling to Nepal should check his or her travel insurance policy Terms & Conditions carefully and if in doubt check directly with the insurance company. This applies to both existing policies and new policies. Whilst many governments have Travel Warnings about visits to Nepal some travel insurance policies may be affected. Note: although you can buy travel cover online and through brokers it’s up to the traveller to check whether the policy is actually effective or not.
  • Advise people to be wary of operators offering ‘volunteering holidays’ especially those that involve work with children and other vulnerable groups.
  • If someone has relevant skills (medical practitioners, engineers, constructions specialists etc) and are accredited / licensed / have a permit to work in Nepal then please come. If you would like to ‘do something for Nepal’ but are not working with a registered organisation / are not qualified then please find another way to help. Fundraising, awareness raising or even better, visiting and spending money and time in this amazing place would be highly appreciated! Then tell all your friends when you return home!
Why should people travel to Nepal?

  • Ethical tourism provides one of the largest sources of foreign revenue to Nepal. Keeping this industry alive is key to rebuilding and survival.
  • A large percentage of tourism jobs are held by people from quake affected areas, and it’s said that one tourist provides nine people with jobs
  • The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2014 report indicated that in 2014 Travel & Tourism directly supported 487,500 jobs (3.5% of total employment). This was expected to rise by 4.0% in 2015 and rise by 3.0% pa to 681,000 jobs (3.9% of total employment) in 2025. However, these estimates could be compromised by the impact of the earthquake. The WTTC estimate includes employment by hotels, travel agencies, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services).
  • Many peoples’ livelihoods depend on tourism including: those in hotels, transport companies, restaurants, airports, taxis, gear shops, souvenir stalls, not to mention the farmers who grow the food to supply the industry.
  • The multiplier effect of every dollar spent on travel in Nepal is immense.
  • Tourism takes money directly into remote and regional communities, so it is a powerful distributor of wealth which does not rely solely on the ‘trickle down’ effect.
  • Jobs and currency are the most needed long-term items for a sustainable rebuild.
  • At least 2.2 million Nepalis — nearly 10 percent of the population — work abroad, according to the Nepal Institute of Development Studies. And that number doesn’t include those who leave to work without being registered as doing so.
  • There are many countries that are at risk from earthquakes that people continue to visit, for example: New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia and the state of California.

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