According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), tourism is the leading source of employment globally. It provides new jobs, generates capital and acts as a driver for equality, allowing women and young people in rural areas to generate income and support their families. In countries like Nepal, tourism is the largest industry and the largest source of revenue.
If done properly, well-managed tourism could be one of the most effective ways of lifting rural Nepal out of poverty. But all too often, quality falls short of the mark. We would like to make use of International Tourism Day to bring attention to the need for responsible tourism and to consider its role in tackling poverty.
Possessing eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, the tourism industry in Nepal centres around mountaineering and trekking. With popular trails often running through some of the most remote communities in Nepal, tourist destinations tend to lie in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.
Tourism companies will often employ young men from lowland communities as porters. Their knowledge of the country makes them especially suitable for leading groups of generally inexperienced tourists over challenging terrain. However, they are often not used to the high altitudes at which they spend much of their time.
Whilst beneficial for those living in lowland communities – providing a regular source of income for them and their families – employment as a porter is not an option for the most remote communities; money generated from the tourism industry rarely finds its way to those living amidst the mountains which make Nepal so popular.
Life as a porter is not without its drawbacks. According to the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG), Nepali porters are four times more likely to suffer accidents and illnesses than western trekkers. Accounts of porters being abandoned by groups when they fall ill and being left behind in blizzards whilst tourists are rescued by helicopter, certainly brings in to question their rights as employees.
If a porter catches pneumonia or gets frostbite, he cannot work. Without sick pay and incapacity benefit, missing work could mean his family goes hungry. This is unacceptable. As stated by the UNWTO, it is the responsibility of tourism to leave no one behind.
So, what can you do to help? Choices must be made by everyone to support tourism which is responsible and sustainable. In the case of Porters, make sure to ask your tour company to prove that they have policies on porters’ rights and working conditions. Ensure that your porters are wearing suitable clothing and proper footwear. Additionally, make sure that your porters are paid fairly.
If you witness or experience anything which you feel uncomfortable about whilst trekking in Nepal, make it clear to your tour company that it is unacceptable. Report any unfair treatment to Authorities such as the IPPG.
Whilst tourism has the power to connect people, improve economies and support equality, it is subject to the same corruption that plagues other industries. It is the obligation of travelers to ensure that they conduct tourism which is responsible and sustainable, and the duty of international bodies such as the UNWTO to uphold high standards within the sector.