Tourists going it alone won’t do a world of good
While trekking from Tilicho lake in Manang to Jomsom in Mustang, Kasper Ldjten from the Netherlands went missing on August 7. Fortunately, the very next day, a team from the Nepal Army High Altitude and Mountain Warfare School and the Durgadal battalion found and rescued Ldjten. It then came to light that Ldjten had been travelling without a guide.
Recently, there have been many incidents of tourists going missing while trekking without a guide. Secretary of the Pokhara chapter of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), Narayan Sapkota, said that cases of tourists being robbed, raped or murdered might have taken place in the absence of a knowledgeable local guide.
“Besides safety and security, not hiring a guide results in a decline in revenue collection, a loss to the trekking business and unemployment among Nepalis,” said Sapkota. He stressed that the practice of taking a guide or a porter on trekking would greatly increase their safety and would also facilitate the keeping of records.
Of more than 1,000 trained guides in Pokhara, only 150 are currently employed while around 2,200 porters work per season.
Chairman of TAAN Pokhara, Basanta Dabadi, also general secretary of the Pokhara Tourism Council (PTC), said that a guide or porter would boost the country’s economy and reduce illegal operations in the trekking business.
Tourism entrepreneurs claimed that there is an increasing trend of foreigners who have already visited the country, guiding new visitors on their travels and treks, saving their money but costing the Nepali economy. A mandatory government order to take along a guide or porter would ensure their safety while adding to the country’s coffers, they said.
In order to curb illegal activities in the trekking industry and ensure the safety of trekkers, the government had previously introduced a Trekking Registration Certificate (TRC), requiring all visitors to travel only through registered trekking agencies. However, the TRC was scrapped saying that the country had entered the peace process and no danger remained.
Rambabu Bastakoti, a long-time guide, said that besides creating employment, tourists become familiar with Nepali language, culture and lifestyle if guided by a Nepali. However, hoteliers said that implementing a mandatory provision for tourists to be guided by Nepalis was not the right approach.
Chairman of the Western Regional Hotel Association, Biplav Poudel, said that with the expansion of motorways in Pokhara, the flow of tourists was already declining. “Unnecessary economic burdens on tourists may add to the decline,” said Poudel, adding that such a provision may also affect the tourism sector if guides do not provide good service to tourists.
Apart from the Trekkers’ Management Information System (TIMS), which charges tourists entering the Annapurna area under coordination of the Tourism Ministry, the Nepal Tourism Board, the TAAN and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) charge every tourist Rs 2,000 for entry. Out of the 300,000 tourists that visit Pokhara each year, 70 percent go trekking.