Monday, December 21, 2015

The Latest Plan to Jumpstart Nepal's Tourism Economy? Slash Insurance Costs For Mountain Expeditions

We all know that Nepal has suffered greatly since the April 25 earthquake that left parts of the country in ruins. It has been a long, difficult struggle to even begin the rebuilding process, with some areas still waiting to see any positive results. And beyond the physical damage that is still being cleaned up, the Nepal's economy has suffered greatly, no small part thanks to the adventure travel market taking a nose dive in the wake of the disaster. But now, the Department of Tourism there has come up with a plan to help revive the economy, and it involves cutting the costs of a trip at the expense of reducing the price of insurance for guides and porters, with premiums dropping accordingly as well.

According to Bahadur Karki, the head of the Nepali Department of Tourism, a proposal has been sent up the ranks in the government that calls for a substantial reduction in the costs of both rescue and health insurance for workers who are taking part in a trekking or mountaineering expedition to any of the 188 peaks that are below 6500 meters (21,325 ft). The DoT has recommended that insurance premiums be reduced to $3000 for guides and porters, and $2000 for Base Camp staff. Furthermore, rescue insurance is being dropped from $10,000 down to $4000 for anyone on those expeditions as well.

In other words, this means that should something happen to the staff on an expedition, the payout that they receive would be cut dramatically. $3000 for guides and porters who could be sidelined by an accident is not much money, and could leave their families scrambling to pay for medical bills and covering their bills while the person recovers. Worse yet, if a helicopter is used to extract that person from the mountain, only $4000 of the bill will actually be paid. Considering how expensive it is to take a helicopter flight, that won't even come close to picking up the tab for such a rescue, which can easily exceed $10,000.

The thought behind these reductions in costs is that the savings can then be passed on to travelers, who will now be able to visit Nepal, and climb or trek in the Himalaya, for less money. The hope is that this will spur a return of visitors in the spring of 2016, when Everest climbers are expected to return in large numbers, and trekkers will be hiking throughout the region too.

As you can imagine, the guides, porters, and staff who take part in expeditions that are seeing a reduction of insurance costs aren't very happy with proposal. Following an avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 people on Everest in 2014, there was a movement to increase insurance benefits for workers. That was further enhanced this year when another 22 people were killed on the mountain following the earthquake. While those working on Everest wouldn't be impacted by these changes to the insurance costs, there are thousands of others who could be. There are a lot of climbs and treks that the place on the smaller mountains, but the dangers they face remain high.

It's obvious that the government of Nepal is desperate to jump start the economy and get visitors flowing back into the country. That will obviously take some time to happen, but they with so much work to be done, and so many people still without homes, officials are looking for solutions now. The problem is, this isn't a good solution. While it may make it cheaper for visitors to travel through the country, it is doing so at the expense of people who have already suffered greatly. If the they truly wanted to reduce the cost of climbing or trekking in Nepal, why not examine the price of permits instead? That would also have an impact on many workers, and on the governments bottom line, but at least it wouldn't be putting the future of many people in jeopardy the way slashing insurance benefits could. But then again, this is the government of Nepal we're talking about here. They're not exactly well known for making wise decisions when it comes to governing the country.

Thanks to Stefan Nestler's Adventure Sports Blog for sharing this story.


George Basch said...

I admire the restraint you demonstrated in posting this, Kraig. The reason, in my opinion, that the bureaucrats did not consider dropping the cost of the permits, is that they (it is widely "suspected"), personally skim their "personal share" off the top. They are striving to retain this "perk" and put the cost reduction to "jump start" the travel/tourism sector on the backs of their own countrymen. Disgraceful, but sadly, typical.

Kraig Becker said...

I have the same suspicions George. They're looking to cut costs for expeditions, but don't want it to hurt their own pocket books. Standard operating procedure for the Nepali government. Its a shame they can't get out of their own way to help with progress.