Role of mountaineering in our tourism – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No. 1 English Daily Newspaper

Role of mountaineering in our tourism

Mountain tourism is one of the pillars of the Nepalese tourism industry. To understand mountain tourism, one must be clear about the differences between mountain tourism and mountaineering or mountaineering expeditions.

In the book ‘Tourism Management in Nepal’, the writer Prof. Hari Prasad Shrestha mentions mountain tourism as adventure tourism based on mountains. It includes mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking, hiking, rafting, kayaking, canyoning, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, honey hunting, mountain flying, paragliding and study of the culture, social and economic life of mountain people or the community.

On the other hand, mountaineering is an aspect of mountain tourism. In general, climbing rocky and snow-capped peaks is called mountaineering. It starts from base camp to the top of a particular mountain. Mountaineering is an activity of courageous people, it is an adventurous, dangerous, expensive and time-consuming sport. It is a difficult and risky trip on a particular mountain.

Most tourists visit Nepal mainly for vacation / pleasure, sightseeing, pilgrimage, mountaineering, official visit and business. According to Nepalese tourism statistics, the total number of tourists from 2015 to 2019 was 4,602,458, and among them, the number of tourists coming to Nepal for vacation / pleasure holds the highest share at 3,015,625 ( 66%), followed by the pilgrimage – 14%, or 624,337. Tourists visiting Nepal for mountaineering and trekking purposes accounted for 11%, or 491,986.

Nepal is considered the most suitable destination for mountaineering due to the large number of mountains – 1,792 peaks above 5,800 m. Of these, 414 have been officially opened for climbing, and 1,378 remain to be opened. The government has waived the charge for summits below 5,800 m. Thus 403 summits remain officially open to tourists. Nepal has 122 and 1310 mountains above 7000m and 6000m respectively. Until 2000, the number of peaks open for rock climbing was 160. Thereafter, 103, 13, 50 and 104 peaks were opened in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2014 respectively.

Province 1 has the highest number of mountains – 160 – followed by Gandaki Province with 122 mountains. Bagmati province is in 3rd position with 52 mountains. Likewise Karnali and Sudurpaschim (far west) have 60 and 20 mountains respectively. Currently, the Ministry of Tourism (DoT and Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) issues climbing permits for 376 and 27 mountains respectively.

In 2019, a total royalty of Rs. 686 million was collected by the government and the NMA. Of this total, 90 percent was collected from the mountains of Province 1 and 8.45 percent from the mountains of Gandaki Province. Province 1 received the highest royalty since 2017, followed by Gandaki Pradesh.

However, mountaineering revenues by Province 1 are only reasonable. Gandaki province is on track, but not very satisfactory. Lack of infrastructure; mountain information and promotional material; inaccessibility; and awareness of the local population are some of the reasons why the mountains of Bagmati, Karnali and Sudurpaschim province have not been able to attract climbers.

Although mountaineering ranks third in total tourism revenue, the impact it has at the local level must be taken into account. Since it is believed that a mountaineer creates employment for at least four people, we can easily calculate the number of people who benefit from mountaineering. Mountaineering is the only sector that gives a high return on a low investment. Safe and clean accommodation with organic or local food and walking trails are enough to attract climbers. Therefore, the government should pay attention to building more local infrastructure in the mountain area to attract more tourists.

However, mountaineering’s contribution to national tourism revenue is minimal. Nepal is home to the largest number of mountains over 8,000 m in the world, or 14 mountains, but mountain tourism has yet to take its place in the tourism sector. It is not clear why our government and tourism stakeholders are reluctant to promote the fact that Nepal alone has 14 mountains above 8,000m. Of the 14 mountains, we still focus on eight mountains while climbing permits have been issued for the other six peaks (Kanchenjunga Central, Kanchenjunga South, Yalung Khang, Yalung Khang West, Lhotse Sar and Lhotse Middle). There is not sufficient and reliable information about these six mountains in the promotional material of the Ministry of Tourism or the Nepal Tourism Board.

The irony is that we have to depend on Wikipedia for information on the first ascent of these peaks. Yalung Khang West (8,077m) is the only peak above 8,000m, which has still not been climbed, but official confirmation remains to be received from the Ministry of Tourism. Our government should immediately respond to this question so that we can have additional promotional questions about this post COVID 19 spike.

Indeed, Nepal is a country endowed with immense natural beauty, biodiversity, rich cultural heritage and water resources. Sandwiched between two great countries – the great economic powers of the world – we are unable to compete with them in trade and manufacturing. The only sector where we can be competitive is tourism.

If an appropriate national strategy is adopted for the improvement of the tourism sector, it will not take much time to develop this sector. Development of local infrastructure in mountain regions of all provinces, promotion of all mountains at national and international level, opening of restricted areas, easy access to the closest points of all mountains with accommodation facilities, communication, transport and skills human resources will contribute to the equitable development of all mountain regions.

A flexible mountaineering policy, competitive royalty rates for climbing mountains, good management of waste produced during mountaineering and rapid relief management are some of the factors that must be taken into account. This will ultimately increase the contribution to foreign exchange earnings of the entire tourism sector.

Sindurakar is the former administrative director of the NMA