Tourism entrepreneurs in Chitwan grapple with multiple problems
CHITWAN, JUL 10 -
Tourism entrepreneurs in Chitwan have a lot on their plate with increased park entrance fees, a fast-approaching rental deadline and political activists creating havoc.
For the past two weeks, they have been engaged in intense lobbying with the government to withdraw its decision to jack up entrance charges to Chitwan National Park, saying that the increased ticket rates would discourage tourists from visiting the jungle safari destination. Chitwan is the most popular wildlife viewing spot in Nepal.
Meanwhile, national park authorities said that the fees have been increased for the first time in 17 years, and that too after consulting various stakeholders. The entrance charges have been fixed at Rs 100 for Nepalis, Rs 750 for SAARC nationals and Rs 1,500 for other foreign visitors, up from Rs 20, Rs 200 and Rs 500 respectively.
Tourism entrepreneurs see the hike in entrance charges as another blow to the industry even as the seven jungle resorts inside the national park are trying to fend off government efforts to move them out. The deadline to vacate the land leased by the resorts located within the area ends in mid-July. The original time limit expired in 2009, and the government had given them an additional three years to relocate because of Nepal Tourism Year 2011.
Meanwhile, destructive political activists have been another cause of distress for tourism entrepreneurs. A month and a half ago, cadres belonging to the then UCPN (Maoist) set on fire a van parked inside a hotel at Sauraha. A month earlier, an unknown group had attacked a vehicle headed towards Sauraha from Bharatpur airport. Local businesspeople switch off their phones before going to bed for fear of receiving extortion calls. Meanwhile, labour unrest has led to elephant safaris, the main attraction among tourists visiting Sauraha, being stopped.
Last year, the government decided to allow privately owned elephants too to enter the national park. The decision, however, was not implemented after protests by the International Union for Conser-vation of Nature, local political parties and various organisations. Last year, the national park proposed new entry routes for tourists from Dhobha, Madi and Nawalparasi which are yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, a number of new resorts and hotels are being built in Chitwan. However, the decisions being made without ample study and discussion with the stakeholders are affecting one of the country’s main tourist destinations. “The destination has been affected by ad hoc decisions of the government,” said Bishwo Raj Subedi, general secretary of the Chitwan Tourism Development Committee. “No studies are done before reaching a decision. There is no thought to bringing quality tourists. Due to the current mess, wildlife tourists are choosing to visit India,” added Subedi.
He said that the jungle resorts located inside the national park could be moved to its periphery. “It is right to punish those who disturb the park’s environment,” he said. “But as a wildlife destination, this place should be preserved.”
Meanwhile, the rise in park entry fees has rankled tour operators for messing up safari packages that are fixed well in advance. “Tourists have done their bookings a year ago, and they can’t be cancelled now,” said Shanker Sainju, president of the Regional Hotel Association. “Neither can we charge them more nor can we pay the extra charges from our own pocket.”
The fees for elephant safari have been raised to Rs 500 for Nepalis, Rs 1,500 for SAARC visitors and Rs 2,500 for other foreign tourists. Earlier the rates were Rs 200, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 respectively. “It should have been increased in line with the market price,” said Sainju. “But it was increased in such a way that tourists are getting scared.”
Earlier, a budget of Rs 6,000 was enough for a tourist to enjoy a jungle safari package, said Sainju. “Indian tourists have stopped coming after the fee hike. The number of Chinese tourists is decreasing. Chitwan can collapse as a destination,” he said. According to him, hotels in different areas of Chitwan have made investments totalling around Rs 10 billion.
Posted on: 2012-07-10 08:36