Pokhara’s tourism struggles after plane crash

Number of air passengers down by half

Bijay Nepal 05 Feb 2023
Pokhara’s tourism struggles after plane crash ATR-72 aircraft of Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines on the tarmac of Pokhara International Airport. (File Photo)

POKHARA: It has been a month since Pokhara International Airport started commercial operation. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal inaugurated the airport with much fanfare and rejoicing on January 1.

Tourism entrepreneurs had expected an increase in tourists to the lake city with the opening of the third international airport in the country. However, things have not gone as planned. Although it has been more than a month of operation, no international flights have yet landed in Pokhara and it is unlikely that international flights will be possible in the near future. To aggravate the situation, the airport, which was relying on domestic flights, experienced a serious accident just 15 days after its launch.

A Yeti Airlines ATR 72-500 aircraft crashed near Pokhara Airport on January 15, resulting in the loss of 72 lives, including 4 crew members. The crash has left a profound impact on Pokhara and its aftermath is still being felt.

Since the accident, the number of flights to Pokhara has declined by nearly 50%. The airport, which saw 18,240 passengers on January 14, now handles around 9,000 daily. Due to a decrease in passenger numbers, airlines have reduced the frequency of flights by half.

According to Devraj Subedi, the revenue head of Pokhara International Airport, daily passenger numbers fell to 413 one week after the crash.

Buddha Air, Yeti Airlines, Shree Airlines, Saurya Airlines, and Guna Airlines operate flights to and from Pokhara. Prior to the accident, Buddha Air operated up to 12 flights daily, but currently operates eight flights. Similarly, Yeti Airlines has reduced its flights from six to two daily. Shree and Saurya, among others, have been operating only one flight daily.

Prior to the accident, Buddha Air operated up to 12 flights daily, but currently operates eight flights.

Subedi stated that the airport is expected to see an increase in passenger traffic starting from the third week of February. He added that the passenger numbers are expected to rise during the tourist season (February to April) and return to normal levels.

Bikram Raj Gautam, the chief of Pokhara International Airport, believes that the passenger numbers will increase after the aircraft investigation report is released. He stated that once the root cause of the accident is identified, the psychological fear among passengers will subside. “Additionally, with improving weather conditions, the situation is expected to return to normal soon,” he added.

Gautam also stated that preparations are underway to commence international flights from the third week of February. Buddha Air has requested permission to operate flights to three cities in India from Pokhara, but has not yet been granted air route clearance.

A Setback for Tourism
The tragic plane crash during the tourist season has dealt a major blow to the tourism industry in Pokhara. The tourism industry, which had been recovering after a two-year slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered another setback with the crash. According to Laxman Subedi, the president of the Pashchimanchal Hotel Association Pokhara, the accident has had a significant impact on Pokhara’s tourism. He stated that the tourism business was beginning to recover but was hit again by the crash.

Gopi Bahadur Bhattarai, the outgoing chairman of the Pokhara Tourism Council, is optimistic that the number of tourists will start to increase from March. He stated that the tourism industry could receive some relief if Nepal is included in China’s approved destination list.

A large number of Chinese tourists used to visit Nepal before the pandemic.

According to the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), over 55,000 foreign tourists arrived in Nepal by air in January. Local tourism entrepreneurs claim that around 40% of foreign tourists visiting Nepal travel to Pokhara.

Published On: 05 Feb 2023


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