Tourism is Nepal’s top foreign-exchange earner, and many see it as the country’s most promising economic engine. But while the industry creates tens of thousands of much-needed jobs, plus indirect employment in related industries, this work tend to be menial and seasonal. Moreover, the economic benefits of tourism are highly localized, and an estimated 60 percent of the foreign exchange earned from tourism goes right back out of the country to pay for imported materials. True, tourism can claim some credit for shaping the government mostly progressive environmental record – but it’s an open question whether the revenue earned really offsets the ecological and cultural costs. The fruits of tourism, so arbitrarily awarded, have turned legions of Nepalis into panhandlers, in much the same way that aid has done to politicians and institutions.
There are various strategies for exploiting tourism as a development tool. The one employed by nearby Bhutan is to admit only a small number of very high-paying tourists, thus maximizing revenue while minimizing impacts. Another approach, exemplified by independent trekking, is to encourage tourists to disperse and spend as much of their money as possible at the local level. Unfortunately, Nepal has so far failed to pursue any clear strategy. It has tended to go for quantity rather than quality, and to allow visitors to cram themselves into a few overused areas, which only degrades the tourist experience and undermines the industry’s long-term viability; this commodity approach to tourism seems particularly shortsighted in Nepal’s case, given its unique assets ( there is only one Mount Everest).