Hotels and tourism-related businesses in Birgunj are on the verge of collapsing after tourists stopped coming to the town following the border’s partial closure to prevent the import of Covid-19.
The government sealed the border in March 2020 following a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the contagious disease. Although cargo vehicles and pedestrians are allowed to cross the border, Indian vehicles carrying tourists haven’t been allowed in for over a year and half.
“Tourism-related businesses in the Birgunj area have incurred losses of around Rs 1.5 billion after Indian tourists stopped coming,” says Hari Pant, president of the Hotel and Tourism Entrepreneurs Association, Birgunj.
"During the first wave of Covid-19, the industry lost around Rs 500 million. During the second wave, the total loss jumped to over Rs 1 billion." According to Pant, there are more than 70 hotels in operation in Birgunj and 10 more are being built. He says 60 to 80 percent of the customers and tourists who stay in hotels in the Birgunj area are Indians. "Four-five hotels in the bus park area have already been closed and some are preparing to shut," he says, adding that hotels in Birgunj are operating at 25 percent capacity.
Kuber Karki, a member of the association, says 60 percent of hotel workers lost their jobs due to the inability of hotels to operate at full capacity. "We have been unable to pay house rent as well as worker allowances and salaries," he says. Interest on loans and electricity bills are also increasing.
Karki, who runs Hotel Kumu Palace on Link Road, says he will have no choice but to close his hotel if the situation remains unchanged.
Hoteliers have been demanding that the Birgunj border crossing be fully opened as the infection rates have declined across the country, including in Birgunj. The association says the government has ignored their demands.
The association had handed over a memorandum to Parsa’s District Administration Office as well as District Covid Crisis Management Center on June 25 asking for permission to operate hotels, lodges and party palaces in Birgunj. These establishments later opened. Now the association is preparing to meet the prime minister and hand over another memorandum on the border.
A 20-minute documentary has been prepared about the impact of the epidemic and the closure of the border checkpoint on the hotel and tourism businesses in Birgunj, says Madhav Basnet, general secretary of the association.
Rachendra Thapa, manager at country Inn Hotel, says, "Thousands of freight vehicles as well as thousands of Nepali nationals cross over from India via Birgunj every day and they supposedly don’t bring Covid-19. But Indian tourists do? What are they thinking?"