Flip through any important official or political document, whether the Constitution of Nepal, the election manifestos of political parties or a development plan of the government, tourism seems a magic wand for socio-economic transformation and development in Nepal. As the country is blessed with magnificent snow-capped mountains, beautiful flora and fauna, remarkable trekking routes, rich cultural and religious diversity and sacred temples and monasteries, these documents are full of the arguments for Nepal’s competitive advantage in tourism.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines tourism in a broader sense as a complex sector that covers travel for both business and leisure that has multiple backward and forward linkages into diverse sectors of the economy. Cognizant of such economy-wide linkages, the Nepali government’s fifteenth development plan recognizes tourism as a major source of foreign exchange and investment and a key driver for reducing poverty and improving living standard of people by generating employment and business opportunities. The planning document also appreciates the role of tourism sector in driving prosperity, reducing inequality, and empowering women and marginalized groups of the society. The government, in token of recognition of the importance of the industry, declared this year ‘Visit Nepal 2020,’ dedicated to the tourism industry. Officially launched on January 1, 2020, Visit Nepal 2020 aimed to attract 2 million tourists, generate $2 billion revenue and create thousands of new jobs.
Following the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 12, economic and social crises ensued. Countries adopted non-pharmaceutical measures such as lockdown, social distancing, travel and mobility bans, stay at home instructions, self- or mandatory-quarantine, curbs on crowding etc. to contain infections. Such measures have arrested global travel and tourism. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that globally, international tourist arrivals decreased by 56 percent and USD $320 billion in exports from tourism were lost in the first five months (January to May) of 2020. For the year 2020, international tourist number is projected to decline from 58 per cent to 78 percent, which would translate into a drop of USD $910 billion to USD $1.2 trillion in global export revenue from tourism. It also puts 100-120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them women, youth working informally in micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). UNWTO expects international tourism to recover by the second half of 2021 but warns that tourism is facing unprecedented challenges and an existential threat from the impact of COVID-19 globally.
Although the first imported COVID-19 case was detected as early as 23 January, Nepal was cautious about enforcing containment measures, including complete or partial lockdowns, and did so with significant time lags. Visit Nepal 2020 was put on hold on March 3. On-arrival visas for nationals from five countries – China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan – were suspended on March 10, and for another three countries – France, Germany, and Spain- on 13 March. On March 14, all on-arrival visas were suspended, including those for Non-Resident Nepalese (NRN). On the same day, all permissions for mountaineering expeditions were suspended. All domestic and international flights and long-distance transport services were suspended starting March 23. On 24 March, Nepal went into a national lockdown which was lifted on 22 July. But prohibitory orders imposed by chief district officers in more than half of the districts including Kathmandu, the capital city, continue to bar the public from coming out of their houses except for emergency work. Although the government has made a decision to resume international flights in a few countries from September 1, domestic flights will remain suspended until September 15. Of all the major economic sectors, the tourism sector has been worst-hit by such measures. This essay attempts to assess the impact of COVID-19 on tourism sector of Nepal and proposes restarting strategies for sustainable tourism growth.
 National Planning Commission, Fifteenth Plan. Kathmandu, 2020. (in Nepali)
 UNWTO, World Tourism Barometer, vol. 18, No. 3, June 2020 available at https://doi.org/10.18111/wtobarometereng.
 Op. cit.