• Nepal's tourism industry is reeling after the coronavirus forced an early end to the Mount Everest climbing season.
  • Over 1 million workers in Nepal, from Sherpas to cooks, rely on tourism, which brings $700 million to the economy each year.
  • A lengthy lockdown has put thousands of people in financial difficulty.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Hundreds of climbers attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest each year.

But this year, things couldn't be more different.

The coronavirus pandemic shuttered climbing and trekking businesses through the rest of 2020, and locals who depend on tourism for their livelihood are feeling the impact.

Over 1 million people in Nepal rely directly or indirectly on income from tourism.

The loss is especially painful for those who live around the mountain - around 80% of that population depends on mountaineering and mountain tourism, according to the Nepal Mountaineering Association. Last year, Everest expeditions alone employed 54,000 people, including cooks, Sherpas who accompany climbers, and porters who carry loads up to base camp.

"The closure of expeditions has made things very difficult for me. This is my year's earnings," said Phurba Nyamgal Sherpa, an Everest tour guide from the nearby village of Khumjung. "I don't have any other job. It is very difficult."

Nepal's tourism industry is reeling after the coronavirus forced an early end to the Mount Everest climbing season.
Rizza Alee
Nearly 1.2 million tourists visited Nepal in 2018, bringing in more than $700 million in sorely needed revenue to one of the poorest countries in Asia.

The 40 or so expeditions that take on Everest during the spring climbing season can bring in over $4 million in permit fees alone, as well as provide employment to thousands of local people who work in hospitality.

Sharmila Lama, a trekking and mountain guide, should have summited the Annapurna massif in April and earned around $8,000 across the lucrative climbing season, which runs from early April to the end of May.

"And then, just when the season started, the lockdown started," she said. "Not only my personal life, but all the workers involved in the tourism sector. There is a huge impact on us." She is now living back in the capital Kathmandu with her son and sisters, waiting for the lockdown to pass, in hope of returning to the mountains before her savings run dry.

"The rental bills keep adding up here in the city," she said. "I have to pay the rent, and it is difficult to manage food for the time being. Also, our pockets are emptying day by day."

There have been almost 6,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 19 deaths in Nepal, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The lockdown is the last thing the country needed.

Climbing on Everest was effectively called off following an avalanche in 2014 that killed 16 guides. One year later, an earthquake that killed around 9,000 people nationwide again triggered deadly avalanches on the mountain.

Tourism officials had dubbed this year "Visit Nepal Year 2020" - a marketing push aimed at delivering higher visitor numbers and welcoming people back to the country after the earthquake. Many hotels took out loans to spruce up their properties and entice tourists. But without government bailouts, many now face ruin.

Some workers in the Everest tourism industry have returned to their hometowns to wait out the lockdown.
AFPTV
"The main problem at the moment is paying the rent. We have to pay a monthly rent of $2,900," said Raju Bhatt, owner of the Alpine hotel in Kathmandu. His hotel has 21 rooms and would normally be at full capacity at this time of year with tourists from China, Europe, and the US. "Compared to last year, business is zero this year. There are no guests in the hotel. We normally have full occupancy at this time. We are managing on our reserves and our personal savings."

One positive impact of the lengthy lockdown has been the noticeable drop in air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley. It has even been possible to make out Mount Everest itself, 165 kilometers away - it's normally obscured by layers of smog.

But the world's highest peak hasn't been entirely quiet.

A Chinese team summited the mountain in May as part of a survey expedition to measure the height of the mountain and install 5G telecommunications to the northern slopes.

But on the Nepalese side, and in the normally bustling villages along the trail to base camp, there's an eerie silence.

"We hope that this hard time goes soon, Ang Tshering Sherpa said. "This is what we are hoping, and we are hoping that soon there is sunshine in the world."

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