The end of the monsoon season in Nepal marks the beginning of autumn. Usually, during this time, the country welcomes crowds of international adventurers that seek to venture the Annapurna trail, mountain bike through the Himalayan peaks and river raft across the mighty rivers of Pokhara.
This year, however, will be different, to say the least. Although the Democratic Republic intends to open borders to foreign tourists from October 17 onwards, it counts on domestic tourism to make up for profit loss. Hotels are already seeing their occupancies rise up from domestic bookings alone, but in Pokhara, which owns 1,000 hotels and resorts by being the access point to Annapurna base camp, domestic visitor spending will not compensate revenue by itself. In the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chitwan National Park, the standard occupancy rate was 68%, around 7,000 daily tourists (40% of them being Chinese), but Hotels and Resorts have only recorded 200 visitors a day (53% reduced occupancy) during the summer season of 2020.
As a preventive solution, the Ministry of Tourism is planning a proposal to extend Nepali weekends to two days (Saturday & Sunday), instead of the usual 1 day weekend (Saturday). This temporary solution will incite Nepali business travellers that would normally be abroad, to book hotels and activities nearby, and inquiries from this demographic have been recorded across the hospitality sector in Pokhara and Chitwan. Furthermore, the 5-day traditional Tihar (Deepawali) festival is right around the corner, and the tourism industry is hoping to attract as many national visitors as they can get their hands on.
The hotel sector, although visibly struggling, takes an optimistic stance in the face of internal tourism, and sees it as a provisional saviour. The executive director of Hotel Barahi (Pokhara), Biplav Poudel, says that: “Yes, domestic bookings are coming back. This trend suggests that we may observe at least 25% occupancy this autumn season from domestic tourists alone. That’s a beginning.” By the same vein, the ex-President of Regional Hotel Association in Chitwan, Suman Ghimire, reiterates: “We don’t have another alternative at this time. Like in post-earthquake in 2015, we believe domestic tourism will bail out the industry.”