Owners of the tourist resorts and lodges inside the Chitwan National Park (CNP) have now become hopeful that the government will allow them to continue with their businesses there.
Their level of confidence has risen after meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. Last week, a delegation of the Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) met with Prime Minister Dr. Bhattarai and urged him to reconsider the issue and renew their contracts.
"After holding a meeting with the Prime Minister, we are quite confident that the government will take a positive decision in this regard," said Yadav Bantawa, General Manager of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge (P) Limited.
With the deadline for the hotels to vacate the land leased by the hotels inside the park nearing, the hoteliers were in a state of confusion. They would not know whether to receive bookings for the upcoming autumn tourist season or not.
The 15-year contract of the seven resorts and hotels had ended July 15, 2009. Then, they had remained closed for six months.
In December 2009, the then government had given three years’ time to the hotels and resorts to relocate. The government had taken the decision based on a report of the Natural Resources and Means Committee under the parliament.
Another parliamentary body-- Public Accounts Committee (PAC)—was not in favour of removing the hotels and resorts from the park. The PAC had taken up the issue with much focus on outstanding royalty and tax dues to be recovered from the resorts and hotels. Five of them had cleared their dues immediately.
The hotels were allowed to operate inside the park for three more years keeping in view the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY 2011).
Bantawa said that his resort has kept receiving bookings for the next season. "Despite such an uncertainty, we have been booking rooms. We have informed our business partners and clients that the resort’s contract is subject to renewal," he said.
He informed that they have held a series of meetings with the Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation and other high-level bureaucrats. "We have found all of them, including the locals and the hoteliers at Sauraha, to be positive towards us," he said.
Tiger Tops, which has been in operation in Chitwan for the last 45 years, has pioneered the wildlife tourism in Nepal. The resort has made a vital contribution to promoting the environmentally responsible tourism. Its quality services and effective marketing activities have also helped in promoting Nepal as an important tourist destination in the international arena. When the wildlife safari began becoming popular in Chitwan, more other resorts were set up inside the park during the 1980s and 1990s.
Another notable point is that many countries in Asia like India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia have learned from Nepal about wildlife safari and created wildlife safari as their new product. So, among the wildlife tourism circle, Nepal is regarded as ‘Africa of Asia.’
Apart from Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, Temple Tiger Hotel, Machan Wildlife Camp, Chitwan Jungle Lodge, Gaida Wildlife Camp, Island Jungle Resort are inside the park.
However, the case of Safari Narayani Hotel (P) Limited is different from others. This resort is located on the banks of the Rapti river outside the park. The resort has only leased a certain portion of land inside the CPN for operating wildlife safari.
Rajeev Das Shrestha, Director of Safari Narayani Hotel (P) Limited, informed that the resort has also been booking rooms for the upcoming season.
"As we have got pledges from the Prime Minister and other high-level officials of the government, we have hoped that the government will renew our contract," Shrestha said.
He, however, said that they were not sure whether the bookings will materialise or not.
"If the government does not renew the contract, the country will lose Chitwan as a wildlife safari product. The government must come up with a concrete policy on the wildlife tourism," he said.
Chitwan is an equally popular destination among domestic visitors. Established in 1973, the CNP was listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 1984. In 2010, the park lured 84,518 international tourists.