FLYING ON EMPTY
When the tourism industry hits rock bottom,
there is nowhere to go but up
This time of year,
Jomsom should be bustling
with trekkers headed down from Thorung La and waiting for flights to
pilgrims walking up to
Muktinath. This year, all you have are tumbleweeds blown
up the dusty banks of the Kali Gandaki by the fierce afternoon wind.
Lodge owners here don’t remember things being as bad as this, even in the autumn
of 2001. There used to up to 800 trekkers moving up and down through Jomsom
during peak season. These days, there are barely a 100 tourists.
If it is any consolation,
Pokhara is even more deserted. In fact, the big
difference with previous years is that the tourists who are here seem to have
skipped Pokhara completely pr just overnighted there.
The lodge owners are competing against each other for the stragglers.
Undercutting is rife and trekkers have learnt to bargain hard and bring prices
Jomsom is the air head for trekkers going to Mustang or pilgrims visiting
Muktinath and one wonders why there has been a drop. This is not a Maoism
hotspot, it is a tourism hotspot. The stupendous north face of Nilgiri looms
over the town, the new airport is clean and efficient, the people are friendly
and the food is wholesome. But tourism has hit rock bottom, and so have the
Every trekking guidebook about Nepal recommends that tourists bargain because
prices tend to be hiked. But this does not refer to the food and lodging rates.
“Everyone wants to bargain nowadays,” says Pramila Gauchan of Xanadu Hotel in
Jomsom,” earlier it used to be only Israeli tourists but now it’s the Americans
and the Europeans as well. The other day I was shocked when tourists came to my
hotel and said they would pay for food and drinks but wanted the rooms for
Maya Thakali, a member of the Upper House, tells us, “This lack of tourism has
Jomsom drastically and not only has tourism gone down but due to the
lack of tourists even agriculture is suffering. People are not able to cope and
so look away when underhanded tactics are used to incite tourists to their
At a time when many hotel owners can barely meet running costs, this is suicide.
Gauchan remembers that 15 years ago, she could run a small restaurant easily
without having to bother about bargaining or making ends meet, a time when she
would barely have time to sit down and eat, much less worry about having
tourists come and eat. And along the Annapurna trail, hoteliers had agreed not
to let prices slide.
“The competition is killing,” says Gauchan,” everyone is trying to steal guests
from each other.” They line up outside the airport waiting to pounce at the
first possible guest, offering rooms at impossible prices to try and make up
their costs. “It’s bad for business and they won’t be able to keep it up in the
long run,” Technically, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project fixes all lodge
and food prices and this system worked well from Manang to Jhomsom. Now, with
the numbers falling, it is a cut-throat business.
To resuscitate the ailing tourism business, Jomsom Mountain Resort is now trying
to promote local tourism, targeting Nepalis and Indians. “Domestic tourism is
picking up and they even tip better,” says Vinayak K Singh of Jomsom Mountain
Resort,” and we are promoting packages to incite local tourists to come to
Jomsom.” (see below)
Because of the army’s mountain warfare training camp nearby, security in Jomsom
is tight and an unofficial curfew begins at eight each night. But it is the
strikes and blockades on the Pokhara trail that affect Jomsom more than what
happens here. Gauchan adds: “Most of us have managed to stay afloat.”
Source: Nepal Times, April 22-28, 2005
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