Help Nepal Get Back On Its Feet

Outdoor and adventure travel industries put a positive spotlight on Nepal.

By Avery Stonich December 28, 2015
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Read Nepal on the Rebound

On April 25, 2015, and in the days and weeks that followed, no industry was more eager to help earthquake-ravaged Nepal than the outdoor industry. With deep ties to the country that claims more than half of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, outdoor adventure companies put on gear goggles. Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) joined forces to collect and distribute outdoor clothing and gear, an effort that ultimately proved harder than scaling Everest. It was a case of being too focused on an objective and failing to see the most effective route.

“After a month and a half of beating our heads against the wall, we gave up and admitted that we weren’t a disaster relief organization,” said Shannon Stowell, president of the ATTA. “We came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do is to help with business continuity for the tourism industry in Nepal.”

Tourism in Nepal has plummeted, delivering a secondary hit to a country that was already reeling. Media images paint a picture of total destruction. Yet many areas in Nepal suffered little to no damage from the earthquake. The two main trekking areas—the Everest and Annapurna regions—are open for business. Many cultural sites, while perhaps damaged, are accessible and still portray the same rich history they always have.

A temple in Kathmandu that was damaged during the earthquake is propped up with stilts.

A temple in Kathmandu that was damaged during the earthquake is propped up with stilts.

“After the earthquake, the media failed to pan the cameras to the buildings that are still standing,” said Sunil Sharma, managing director of Dawn Till Dusk, a Nepali bike tour operator. “We are trying to tell the world that we are still intact.”

Back at the drawing board, ATTA hatched the idea to donate its 2015 AdventureWeek—an annual familiarization trip for media and travel outfitters to learn about a particular destination’s tourism opportunities—to Nepal. ATTA waived its fee and took a group of journalists and tour operators to assess the country’s readiness to accept travelers. OIA helped launch AdventureWeek Rebound Nepal on the Great Himalaya Trails at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Industry Breakfast in August, with a presentation by The North Face. In the months that followed, the ATTA provided extensive free marketing for Nepal as a destination and donated countless hours of staff time to organize AdventureWeek.

The trip took place Oct. 24–Nov. 1, bringing 18 media and tour operators from the United States, Australia, China, Egypt and the United Kingdom to tour Nepal. The potential for widespread media exposure is great, with participants representing online, print, television and radio outlets such as AFAR, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Travel, Outside, Backpacker, Teton Gravity Research, Travel Weekly, Matador Network, Conde Nast China, Public Radio International, Slate and more.

This year's ATTA AdventureWeek participants included members of the media and outdoor travel industry.

This year’s ATTA AdventureWeek participants included members of the media and outdoor travel industry.

Organizing AdventureWeek took a village, with government, NGOs and businesses all pitching in. The hope is that its ripple effects spread like seismic waves to villages in every corner of Nepal.

The majority of funding and logistical support for the trip came from Samarth–Nepal Market Development Program, a UKAID-funded program that aims to reduce poverty in Nepal and recognizes how the benefits of tourism spread through the entire economy. “When tourist numbers went down, tailors realized that all these waiters get their dresses from their shops, and realized how much they are connected with tourism,” said Sumit Baral, a tourism advisor with Samarth. “There is that kind of chain effect for the other ends of society.”

Samarth organized AdventureWeek into two itineraries along the Great Himalaya Trails to showcase a broad selection of destinations in Nepal. Led by Dharma Adventures, journalists hopped around the country (thanks to Yeti and Tara airlines) visiting cultural sites in Kathmandu, trekking in the Everest and Annapurna regions, paragliding and ultralight flying in Pohkara and going on safari in Chitwan—experiences that underlined the fact that Nepal is functioning well for tourism.

The outdoor industry was a key partner in bringing AdventureWeek Rebound Nepal to life. Princeton Tec, ExOfficio, and The North Face donated gear; Delorme made it possible for Polar Explorer Eric Larsen to document the trip.

On the ground, numerous Nepali businesses welcomed the group with open arms, emphasizing the importance of bringing back tourism. “This is a time when we need you all here,” said Ambica Shrestha, president and founder of Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu. “Help for Nepal comes from bringing people in. That goes to the grassroots.”

AdventureWeek was successful in demonstrating that Nepal is open and ready for business, and emphasizing tourism’s important role in the country’s recovery. The hope now is that participants will tell the world.

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The writer with a Nepali paragliding guide soars over Pokhara, a region rich with adventure travel opportunities and open to visitors.

“Through AdventureWeek Rebound Nepal, we put down a platform that the media can now work from. Now it’s up to the participants of the trip to tell their stories,” said Stowell.

In the months to come, OIA and the ATTA will continue to collaborate, exploring creative partnerships between the adventure travel and outdoor industries to help promote recovery in Nepal.

“[We’re] two industries that have the same shared vision,” said Amy Roberts, OIA’s executive director about the partnership with ATTA. “I think this partnership is going to open up opportunity because we came together and worked around a disaster, and now those relationships are established.”

Stowell agrees: “I’m excited about the new level of cooperation between OIA and the ATTA because I think together were stronger in promoting good outdoor recreation adventure travel.

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