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The tourism industry is an enormous industry comprising of several sectors such as hospitality, travel, tours, transport, attractions, and entertainments. All these activities are interconnected and linked. Tourism contributes significantly to the economic development of a nation and is one of the biggest sources of foreign currency earning that create jobs on a larger scale. Unlike other sectors of economic activities, tourism creates jobs in remote areas where job opportunities are scarce. Local hotels, restaurants, attractions, transport providers and many other service providers do provide direct employment or opportunities doing business. Given the superb and unique topography, Nepal has huge potentialities promoting and expanding the tourism industry.
Despite the already available natural resources and facilities, Nepal has not been able accruing intended benefits from the tourism industry. Nepal is divided mainly into three regions i.e. Himalayan region, Hilly region, and Terai region. The Himalayan region consists of world’s tallest mountains such as Mt. Sagarmatha (8848m) as known as Mt Everest in the west, the tallest mountain on earth as well as 8 of the 10 tallest mountains of the world. Likewise, there are thousands of magnificent tourists spots scattered all over Nepal. The world-famous Hindu temple, Pashupatinath, Lord Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini, Goddess Sita’s birthplace Janakpur, Muktinath temple and scores of other religious sites are in Nepal revered by Hindus and Buddhists from all over the world.
Absence of forward-looking planning and implementation
Despite blessed with nature, the tourism industry in Nepal has not been able to harness anticipated economic, social and cultural benefits. The most noticeable gap from the government side is the absence of forward-looking planning and the proper support, supervision, and implementation of tourism-related programs. Sporadic plans and policies were made in the past but none were properly implemented. The tourism policy and tourism act and some regulations are there enacted years ago. However, with the pace of digitalization and modernization, in most cases, they have either become outdated or require more revisions and changes so as to fit with the changed context. The private businesses and industries related to tourism have been active and contributing in promoting their businesses but lacks greater innovative areas expanding the business with sustainability. The current trend of doing business as usual with a traditional mindset needs to be changed otherwise the pace of tourism business may stunt putting adverse effects on environment and biodiversity. Tourism being a global business, Nepal must embrace best practiced modern business approaches. The Nepal government in paper insists on sustainable tourism but in practice, the constructions of hotels, resorts, cable cars, roads, facilities, and infrastructures are putting harsh pressure on the environment.
Most constructions have intentionally disrespected the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of projects. And, in many instances, as reported, the concerned government staffs do collaborate with the industries or projects and make wrong assessments so as to help/allow the construction activities grossly evading the very standard of EIA. Due to the prevailing corrupt practices, several tourism projects have abhorrently evaded the norms resulting in serious environmental degradation. The mushrooming cable cars, hotel construction in and around Kathamandu valley and, mountain foothills, trekking routes have disregarded the environmental norms badly affecting the serene environment. Some people who own the businesses and the concerned government staff together with local and national level elected leaders may have benefitted from this sort of anti-environment nature atrocities but the nation has started suffering.
The other bad and corrupt behavior experienced by the country is that the political elements and land mafias are active in hiring bulldozers to open tracks in the villages. The rampant use of bulldozer and construction work has destroyed trekking trails in mountain and hill regions badly affecting the trekking business. The abusive nature of spending public fund for track opening (bulldozer development?) has resulted in deforestation, landslide, and flooding. It has been observed that the tracks are opened where hardly any people live and commute. The concept of sustainable development, that applies to each and every aspects of developmental and conservation activities, was introduced in the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN 1980). Through the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED 1987), or Brundtland Report, named “Our Common Future”, which defined sustainable development as ‘‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’’. In theory, sustainable tourism is a catchy word in Nepal yet the practices are not environment-friendly.
The country must stop the wrong practices of opening tracks where there are no big settlements. It is important to maintain the virginity of some mountains or particular spots. It has been a practice in developed world that the virginity of some particular places/locations or spots is maintained. If the country has to promote sustainable tourism, trekking trails should be constructed and well maintained, east to west, south to north rather than destroying the serenity of mountains and hills.
Lessons to learn from the Alps and Save the Himalayan environment
Nepal can and should learn from the Alpine region. The Alpine region, like the Himalayan region, has a highly sensitive ecosystem with a huge economic and recreational area for millions of people in Europe. The Six Alpine regions have signed a declaration to protect the Alps from climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using more renewable energies and shifting road traffic to rail. In the same vein, Nepal can take a lead in coordinating with other countries in the region to protect Himalayan nature and promote sustainable tourism. It is a well-known fact that the rivers originating from the Himalayas carry fertile soil from the mountains to the plains. They also help in generating hydroelectricity. These mountains check the rain-bearing monsoon winds and thus cause enough rainfall in many parts of Nepal and the region.
Mountains are among the most fragile environments on Earth. Many mountain ecosystems, including the Himalayan mountains, which are among the most unstable and fragile mountain areas in the world, are strongly affected by drivers of global change such as land-use changes and climate change. Environmental degradation such as deforestation and degradation of the Himalayan forests are major environmental issues of global significance and some of the most intensively studied land-use change processes. the Himalayan region is vulnerable to numerous types of hazards such as landslides, extreme rainfall events, floods, and forest fires, which further deteriorate the mountain landscape and forest ecosystem. Likewise, the human-made disaster, waste, bulldozing, encroachment, etc.
Last but not least; Nepal has no land-use policy for the Himalayas. The rational use of mountains is an important area where national consensus is a must. Thus far, the government has no land-use policy for the use of Himalayas. The Himalayas are common precious assets. Nepal may have to coordinate with China and work closely to save the pristine nature of the Himalayas and promote tourism. Understanding the patterns, causes, and consequences of land use, and the changes occurred is essential to understand the very dynamics of the Himalayan landscape. A thorough scientific plus socio-economic study is needed to ascertain the ways and strategies for conservation and management of the Himalayan region. The same initiatives So are needed for other key tourist locations.