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RSS COMMENTARY: Fate of tour guides hangs in balance with tourism sector treading a long path towards revival

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RSS COMMENTARY: Fate of tour guides hangs in balance with tourism sector treading a long path towards revival
RSS COMMENTARY: Fate of tour guides hangs in balance with tourism sector treading a long path towards revival

Kathmandu, July 8: As the country’s tourism industry grapples with the repercussions unfolding in the post-earthquake scenario, the tourist guides are looking ahead towards an uncertain future wary if the ongoing tourist off season is in for a long haul.

Some 95 per cent tour guides are reported to have been rendered jobless in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, with tourism entrepreneurs terming the condition faced by tour guides as ‘fragile’. With number of tourist arrival plummeting after the natural calamity some are even seeking other alternate occupations for the time being.
Though a minimal number of professional guides are currently involved in the field guiding donors, foreign journalists and aid workers, many are also using this gap in their profession to harness additional skills. To upgrade the guides’ capacity, the Tourist Guide Association of Nepal (TURGAN) recently held courses on Hinduism and Buddhism and beginning mid July classes on flora and fauna would be run, according to TURGAN President Hare Ram Baral.

Krishna Kharel, Department Head of Travel and Research at the Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management (NATHM), said professional tour guides with additional language skills besides English have been engaged in translation work while others have started joining language classes. “If they take such courses and excel in communication skills they will be prepared for the coming days,” he said.

As the government and private sectors have joined hands to revive the tourism sector, many tourism entrepreneurs feel tourist arrival may improve from coming September and October with possibility of tourist arrival to increase significantly next year.
However, Surendra Lohani, a senior freelance English-language tour guide, says as the western countries have already issued travel advisory against visiting Nepal the regular tourist arrival is at a standstill.” Lohani, who joined the profession in 1970 when tour guiding profession officially started in Nepal, said he would now have to look for alternate jobs after assessing the scenario for another month.

Although the period from June to August is essentially an off season in Nepal, the bookings for the coming tourist season are reported to be not forthcoming. Aimed at getting tourists back to visiting Nepal, the government recently announced reopening access to the monuments constituting the UNESCO World Heritage List of Kathmandu Valley. However, Prami Shrestha, a freelance German-language tour guide, says the decision was made in haste. “The government should have been patient, we still need to clean up the wreckages in the danger zones,” Shrestha said. Shrestha, who started her profession in 1998, says she is currently taking her time to gain more knowledge and spend time with family and friends.

The condition of tour operators who employ a large number of tour guides, some permanently, is also fragile in the post-quake scenario, and that makes it more worse for the tour guides. ‘The fate of tour guides will be known only in October when the tourist season starts and we will have to wait and see if the companies will let go off guides or retain them,” says President of Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO) Ashok Pokharel.

He underscored the fact that insurance companies have also been reluctant to insure the tourists heading to Kathmandu which has been declared ‘crisis-hit zone’ by the government for a year.

Mark Shrestha, who was trained as a tour guide from NATHM last year, is currently taking Chinese language classes to enhance his skill set. He says although the prospect seems bleak the government including the private sector among all the citizens of the country must join hands to uplift the country from the prevailing scenario.

Earthquake inflicts heavy losses on travel and tours

The tourism entrepreneurs have counted the total loss incurred by the tourism industry in travel and tours in the aftermath of the quake at an estimated 100 million dollars, according to NATO President Pokharel. They have also predicted a 70 per cent loss next year. “This is based on our assessment of post disaster scenario in other countries and Nepal’s Maoists’ insurgency period,” he said. The tourism entrepreneurs have calculated that the tourists’ stay in the country will fall from an average stay of 12 days to eight days while the amount of average expenditure from a tourist per day will decline from $47 to $35.

Number of tour guides in operation

There are more than 4,000 official city guides and more than 10,000 trekking guides operating in the country. According to TURGAN President Baral, only 50 per cent of the total number of guides are active fulltime in the field with another half usually active only during the peak season.

How tourist guiding profession started in Nepal?

During the wedding ceremony of then Crown Prince Birendra Shah in 1970, his father, the then King Mahendra Shah, had invited foreign guests. But, the problem was there were no official guides in Nepal to escort the guests on visits. So in view of the need for official tour guides to take the guests on tours of the city, the government decided to recruit 40 to 50 English faculty students from the Tribhuvan University. They underwent a 15-days tour guide training course at the Hotel Management and Tourism Training Centre (HMTTC), which is now known as NATHM at Rabi Bhawan. This marked the advent of the tour guiding profession in Nepal.

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By Sandesh Shrestha

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