10 December 2021

Mountain tourism is one of the principal economic forces in Nepal because of the country's unique natural features and enduring traditional culture enriched by a diverse population and the ethnic communities of the Himalayan region. The scope of development of mountain tourism has widened with the greater involvement and enthusiastic participation of local people in fulfilment of their livelihoods. However, the local stakeholders in mountain regions have found themselves in an environmental crisis.

Some of the worst problems afflicting mountain regions, including overcrowding, noise and garbage pollution, directly impact local communities. Heavy visitor traffic along with increasing imported consumption produce overwhelming amounts of waste and refuse. In remote mountain regions, refuse disposal is hampered by a lack of transportation, recycling facilities and organizational support.

In order to preserve our mountains and further develop sustainable tourism, it is equally important to manage natural and human resources, maximize the number of visitors and ensure their enjoyment while minimizing negative impacts on sites and garnering benefits for local communities.

“Mountains have always played a major role in my trail running journey", says Mira Rai, a trail runner and skyrunner from Nepal who was appointed as the Food and Agriculture Organization Mountain Partnership Goodwill Ambassador on International Mountain Day on 11 December 2020. “However, they play a key role in our entire global system. Without these beautiful mountains and their environment, there would simply be no life.”  Ms. Rai is also the founder of the Mira Rai Initiative (MRI)—a non-governmental organization supporting and empowering aspiring female trail runners in Nepal and promoting trail running as a mainstream adventure sport there. The Initiative manages scholarships, such as the Exchange and Empower and Ek Paila Agadi programmes, which aim to improve lives of young Nepali females from disadvantaged and marginalized backgrounds through athletic training, education and personal and professional development. The programmes prepare girls to enter trekking and adventure tourism-related professions by providing trekking guide training. 

For trail runners, preserving mountains and trails matters; climate change matters; mountains, jungles and local communities matter. A trail runner can play a meaningful role in mountain preservation and sustainable tourism, especially through awareness-raising and advocacy.

Khumbu Icefall, Himalayas, Nepal, 13 December 2018. Photo: Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

“Pollution, climate change and other insensitive human activities have endangered [the mountains] and all those who depend on them”, says Ms. Rai. “We must take action now to preserve and protect our mountains and their ecosystems. If our nature is happy, it will make us happier and healthier!”

Building Back Better: Mountain Regions and Their Peoples in the Post COVID-19 Era

The sport of mountain trekking drives Nepal’s economy, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trekking industry has missed three seasons of income, and a fourth season is in surge. With a lack of visitors and the travel limitations imposed in response to the pandemic emergency, the financial stability of the tourism sector and the country’s economy are in a critical state. All hotels were closed for a year and a half. Local communities and the service sector, which includes trekking guides and porters, were adversely affected. However, people’s love of travel and the desire to experience things they have not been able to pursue during the pandemic have helped many businesses emerge stronger in areas where COVID-19 infections rates have subsided.

As travel rebounds, people are starting to recognize the value of sustainable tourism and have shown a willingness to commit to greener and more environmentally and socially friendly practices. People are travelling responsibly while helping sustain the well-being of local people by bringing livelihood opportunities to communities without harming the natural environment. Sustainable tourism is the way forward in the post-pandemic era, but there is a dire need to develop policies on sustainable tourism and proper implementation, as well as initiatives to promote conservation principles among tourists in Nepal and in other mountain regions around the world.

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