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Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park

Defining and Practicing Safe Adventure Travel in the COVID-19 Era: The Case of Nepal

Interviews of lodge owners in or near Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park


Interview with Chhimi Kalden Sherpa, Yak hotel, Namche Bazaar

by Ngawang Thapke Sherpa

Summary: Prior to the pandemic, Sagarmarthga (Mt. Everest) National Park was one of the most heavily visitied protected areas in Nepal, with an estimate 60,000 foreign guests arriving during the 2019-2020 tourist season. Lodge owner Chhimi Kalden Sherpa of Namche Bazaar reports that while most people in Khumbu were initially quite frightened of COVID-19, they now feel that with strict safety protocols conditions are such that tourists can safely return to Khumbu and resume their trekking and climbing objectives. She also reports that much stricter safety protocols are now in place compared to before, such as changing sheets after each use, widespread availability of hand sanitizer, wearing of masks, etc.

Participant Information:

  1. Name: Chhimi Kalden Sherpa, Yak hotel

  2. Age: 49

  3. Occupation: Lodge operator

  4. Name of the community/Location: Namche

  5. Date: 23 December 2020

  6. Time: 7:53pm 

 

B. Open- Ended Field Interview 

6. What is your role in the trekking industry, or your connection to it? 

I operate hotel/lodge. I try to provide good service to the guests and make them happy. In the past, I also used to work as a trekking guide. 

 

7. What are the current COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols from the Government of Nepal, and also from your Gaun Palikha and other agencies?  Are they the same guidelines? If no, please describe and if same, how effective are they?     

Regarding safety protocol, in the beginning the government had no interest in it. During summer, there was lockdown and no movement of people. When the autumn season started, I think they [local government] tried to do something but nobody came here at that time. So, we locals organized a training with a team of 4 people, including a doctor from Namche Mountain Medical Institute, and local government supported them with airfare and logistic costs. The training spread very positive message among people. Before the training, people were fearful. After the training, people realized that it is not a serious disease as they thought. We got to learn what is COVID19, how to safely handle guests, how to maintain social distance, how to put sanitizers and many more. Namche Youth group distributed masks to each household. Later on, the local government also distributed masks. Again, there was another training about safety protocol. They came from NMA. They did not invite everyone but only the responsible individuals in the community. They focused more on tourism. They taught us that we should provide only positive message to the guests and inform other people who came in our contact if we get infected by COVID19. They taught about cleaning rooms.   

8. How are you complying with, or implementing those guidelines?

Few days back, people were scared and used to wear masks but now [laughing]. In fact, we should not have kept like this [guests and their supporting staff in kitchen space without social distance]. We asked the clients to stay in dining, but again they come in kitchen. They prefer to stay here. According to safety protocol we were taught, if you are using this table, you have to use only this table until you leave hotel. Once the client leaves, we have to clean table and mattress. I am thinking how to follow safety protocols if the starts. We have put sanitizer at the entrance. We are putting soap at the sinks, even before COVID19. I am planning to make a handwash sink at the entrance gate too. We are cleaning the used tables every day. 

Now I am planning to use mask, globes and cap in the kitchen. It does not only protect from COVID19, but it is important for health and hygiene of the lodge too.  

 

 9. Do you feel that trekking or climbing, at the present time, is safe for you?  And is it safe for the visitors who come trekking? Why? 

I think if the negative PCR report is made compulsory to travel to Khumbu, it might be safe. Again, there is a question mark on how reliable the PCR test results are. Nobody is unhappy when foreigners come to Khumbu. COVID19 has already impacted business enterprises including guides, porters and everyone. I think if we are able to empower the Mountain Medical Institute of Namche, we can work by taking risk. This hospital is neither private nor public. So, there is a management problem in the hospital. I think we should be happy when foreigners come. We should lose something to gain something. I think even if foreigners come, we should keep everyone safe and operate the business. It cannot be done by just an individual. The community people, hotel association and local government, they all have to coordinate. I don’t think the visitors will come while they are suffering from disease. Even if they come, they have to stay in quarantine in Kathmandu before travelling elsewhere. 

I think Khumbu is very safe for visitors. This is our place. Recently, there was a wave of COVID19 in Khumbu, but we were able to bring it under control in just 15 days. Because here we know each another. We can ask infected people to stay in quarantine and we know whether they are following it or not. 

10. Do you believe that taking precautions such as wearing masks will help slow the spread of the disease?  

Yes, I think wearing mask helps to control the spread of COVID19. In Kathmandu, we used to wear mask even when there was no COVID19. In the recent training, the doctor advised us to wear mask. Furthermore, they advised that if there is no mask, then use a neck buff, and even if you don’t have a buff then cover your mouth with elbow when you sneeze. 

 

11. Do you feel that the people around you are taking sufficient precautions? 

In the beginning when there was fear of COVID19, everyone was taking precaution. Now I don’t see people taking enough precaution. Also, this is a small village and as far as I know, now there is no COVID19 in this village. Even the trekkers have come with a negative PCR test report, so people are feeling safe even without wearing mask.  

 12. From where do you get your information about the status of the coronavirus pandemic?  

Facebook. We can see several varieties of news on Facebook, so we have to filter them while reading. I also watch BBC News. 

13. Have you heard contradictory information from different sources? If so, what are they? 

I heard that it is made by human being and it’s made for a war between US and China. People say that it is a silent war. Sometimes I also think so. If it’s a real disease, then thousands of people might have dead in Kathmandu. You can see the crowd of Asan area in Kathmandu. There is nothing as such in Nepal, whereas in the news, we can see COVID19 taking lot of lives abroad. Whereas, in western countries, it is much clean, and the hospitals are very good. It’s still doubtful. 

 

14.  Which source do you feel is the most reliable? 

Before, I used to watch Al Jazeera, but now it has to be searched on internet. Sometimes I watch BBC and CNN. In case of Nepal, I mostly follow Facebook news. 

15. What do you think should be done to better control and manage the spread of the coronavirus?   In particular, what should be done in the way of updating people about regulations and best practices? 

I think the most effective way to control the spread of COVID19 is lockdown, but in a country like Nepal, we cannot always do lockdown. If we do lockdown for a long time, then people might die from hunger. I think we do not have an appropriate solution other than doing lockdown and providing relief materials at the same time. At the local level, we have to mobilize youth group and women’s groups. We have to ask them to distribute mask and educate people about this disease. Namche Youth group also distributed masks. 

Additional questions: 

Bed sheet change after use by guests?

Yes. We change the bed sheet after use by guests. We used to do it even before COVID19. Now we also put blankets in the sun for about an hour after use by guests. 


Use of rooms?

Once a room has been used by a guest, we use that room again only after 24 hours. 


Have you received any training on COVID19 guidelines? If so, who provided them?

Yes. We locals organized a training program which was partially supported by local government. Another training was organized by NMA. 


What sort of support have you received from local government and organizations?

Local government distributed mask. 


Impacts of COVID19: How many guests/tourists did you receive last year in 2019? How many tourists did you receive this year? What was your income in 2019? What is your income in 2020?

Received guests in 2019: around 700. Received guests in 2020: 17 

Income 2019: Between 30 to 40 lakhs. Income 2020: Around 50,000. 


Do you still have full staff or are they on holiday? Or, are those staffs released?

During regular season when there was no COVID19, we used to have 4 staffs. Now we have only one staff. 


What do you think about the future of tourism in your area/region?

I think the future of tourism is good. Once the problem with COVID19 is resolved, there will be increase in number of visitors. Now Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Gaun Palika is also connected by road. So, there will also be increase in the number of domestic tourists. During the lockdown, we saw good flow of domestic visitors.  


Do you think COVID19 will be controlled?

I think it will be difficult to eradicate COVID19 but it can be controlled. 


What measures do you want to see by Nepal government/Gaunpalika/ National Park to build confidence of visitors?

All concerned organizations should take responsibility from their side. Support to hospitals is very important to enhance their services and facilities. If any person becomes sick, the hospital should be in a position to handle that patient. Training to trekking guides on the safety guidelines is very important as the visitors also consider what the guides advise them. 


Interview with Lhakpa Sherpa, Hilltop Lodge, Namche Bazaar

by Ngawang Thapke Sherpa

Summary: Lodge owner Lhakpa Sherpa of Namche Bazaar reports that while most people were initially frightened of COVID-19, and that he himself had contacted the virius, there is no longer a widespread sense of fear in Khumbu. Safety precautions, however, have been both increased (e.g., bed sheets changed in rooms after a client’s use, hand sanitizer available, groups of visitors assigned individual tables, mask wearing compulsory). Lhakpa also feels that trekking and lodge staying is once again safe to undertake in Khumbu.

 

Participant Information:

1. Name: Lhakpa Sherpa, Hilltop lodge

2. Age: 51        

3. Occupation: lodge owner

4. Name of the community/Location: Namche           

5. Date: 24 December 2020     

6. Time: 2:10pm 

 

B. Open- Ended Field Interview 

7. What are the current COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols from the Government of Nepal, and also from your Gaun Palikha and other agencies?  Are they the same guidelines? If no, please describe and if same, how effective are they?     

The local government has asked to maintain social distance, wear mask and use sanitizer. They also distributed masks.

 

8. How are you complying with, or implementing those guidelines?

In my hotel, if there is only one group [guest], I don’t take much care but if there are multiple groups, then I assign tables to each group. So, the group members use the same table until they leave hotel. I have put hand washing basin by the main entrance door. I have also put foot operated sanitizer at the entrance. We also have put hand washing basins at different places inside the lodge. All the basins have flowing water and soap. When I clean table and floors, I use disinfectant. I also ask the guides to stay with clients and not to visit crowded places and teahouses. I have printed the notice in English as well as in Nepali, so that the porters also can understand. I have two types of sanitizer in the hotel- gel and spray. I use the spray sanitizer to disinfect switches, as we cannot clean them with soap and water. I have stocked sanitizers, 10 liters each, so I don’t have to buy them frequently. Upon use by guests, I keep the blankets out in sun for 5-6 hours and flip them in the halfway. We also change the bed sheets. 

 

 9. Do you feel that trekking or climbing, at the present time, is safe for you?  And is it safe for the visitors who come trekking? Why? 

In the beginning I was very scared. At that time, we had no idea about the safety protocols. We also did not have mask, sanitizer and disinfectant. I think now we are habituated. Recently there were COVID19 cases in Namche. Now I don’t fear much, but still, I feel like we have to take precautions. 

I think Khumbu is relatively safe, because for the visitors who come by airways, negative PCR report is mandatory. But the concern is with those who come by roadways through Salleri and then on foot. There is no PCR checking system for those who come on foot. 

 

 10. Do you believe that taking precautions such as wearing masks will help slow the spread of the disease?  

Yes, I think wearing masks help to reduce the spread of diseases. I keep a mask in pocket and wear when I go to market. In house, it is not possible wearing all the time. I think wearing mask is important for our safety. 

 

11. Do you feel that the people around you are taking sufficient precautions? 

When COVID19 cases were found in Namche, everybody used to wear mask and people were seriously taking precautions. Now, people don’t care much. Still, when a person coughs, nearby people scare. Now I can see people maintaining no social distance at the market. I think whenever there is a case, people become alert and follow precautions, but later on, they forget it. 

 12. From where do you get your information about the status of the coronavirus pandemic?  

I watch news every morning. I watch national televisions such as Avenues, NTV and Kantipur and Image channel. I don’t believe in Facebook news. 

13. Have you heard contradictory information from different sources? If so, what are they? 

I don’t think I have heard much about it. I heard that in Kathmandu, the doctors make fake negative PCR report. I also heard that the doctor took eyes from the dead body in Kathmandu. 

14.  Which source do you feel is the most reliable? 

Television news.  

 

15. What do you think should be done to better control and manage the spread of the coronavirus?   In particular, what should be done in the way of updating people about regulations and best practices? 

COVID19 took lives of many people abroad. I think it’s because they eat cold food, they don’t usually take hot and liquid diets. I think we should eat hot meals and liquid diets. We should avoid cold foods. You know, there were COVID19 cases in Namche. I also got cough and when I did PCR test, I got COVID19 positive result. However, COVID19 did not affect me that much. I drank hot water and tea and ate spicy hot meals and hot soups. After some days when I rechecked, I got negative result. After Tengboche Rinpoche deceased, I including many others had been to Tenbgoche. Nine of us were tested positive, but we all did not have bad symptoms. As soon as we tested positive, we did self-isolation in a separate room. I also used separate toilet. In case of my family members, nothing happened to them.   

I think everyone should take precaution. It is not possible to control the spread of COVID19 with the effort from just one or two persons. Last time I went to Thame. I saw old people wearing mask, even if the masks were dirty. However, I noticed that young people ignore to take such precautions. Young boys feel like they are immune to COVID19 and they don’t maintain social distance.  

Additional questions: 

Bed sheet change after use by guests?

It’s compulsory. We change bedsheet, pillow cover and blanket cover after use by guests. 


Use of rooms?

Once the guest leaves, we clean the room. We also use disinfectant to clean the room. We keep the room open for at least 4 hours. 


Have you received any training on COVID19 guidelines? If so, who provided them?

Yes, my wife went to the training. I heard that the training was provided by local government. 


What sort of support have you received from local government and organizations?

Gaunpalika distributed one surgical mask and one N95 mask per person. Hotel Association Namche distributed foot operatable sanitizer dispenser and a 5-liter sanitizer. 


Impacts of COVID19: How many guests/tourists did you receive last year in 2019? How many tourists did you receive this year? What was your income in 2019? What is your income in 2020?

Received guests in 2019: The hotel used to be fully occupied and the room used to be pack during season. I received more than 300 guests.     

Received guests in 2020: Only two groups of Nepali (domestic) trekkers. 3 groups of foreign trekkers (there were only 1-2 visitors in each group). In March, before lockdown I received 50 guests. 

Income 2019: declined to respond  

Income 2020: declined to respond 


Do you still have full staff or are they on holiday? Or, are those staffs released?

We usually do not keep staff. We family members run the hotel. 


What do you think about the future of tourism in your area/region?

I think if COVID19 is controlled, Khumbu will receive visitors more than in 2019. Personally, I am already getting inquiries from Airbnb. 


Do you think COVID19 will be controlled?

I think yes. You know, in the past we did not even have a medicine to cure diabetes and sugar, but now we have. 


What measures do you want to see by Nepal government/ Gaunpalika/ National Park to build confidence of visitors?

We should not rely on local government. We need to follow the safety guidelines.