Time is running out for Nepal’s Tourism Ministry to act before start of busy trekking season

TIFJ



March 1st marks the start of the busiest trekking season of the year in Nepal, but less than 48-hours until thousands of tourists of all nationalities embark on the country, not one single change has yet been made to make Nepal less risky for tourists or insurers.


On January 30th, Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari told the Nepali Times that action against those responsible for a multimillion insurance fraud scam would be taken within two-weeks.


Then on February 13th, the Tourism Minister told Kathmandu Post that action would be taken in two-days.


It is now February 26th. Not one single charge has yet been laid against those people responsible and more importantly, not one single change has yet been announced by the Tourism Ministry to ensure that travellers lives and safety are not placed in jeopardy - this season, or ever again.


On January 25th, a letter was sent to the Tourism Ministry warning that if immediate action was not taken against companies responsible for defrauding millions of dollars from insurers, then some insurers would boycott the country. A deadline was set by February 15th.


After them completely ignoring the deadline and out of frustration at the governments lack of action, Traveller Assist, the company who has investigated insurance fraud in Nepal since 2017, publicly named the companies, and people behind those companies, who it alleges are responsible for a majority of the fraud and corruption.


Jonathan Bancroft, Managing Director of Traveller Assist said, "We appreciate that the governments investigation is time consuming. There are a lot of people and companies being investigated, and there is a lot of evidence to gather and process."

However, there are not only insurers waiting to make decisions, there are many travellers who have delayed booking their holiday to Nepal until they can be sure that they are booking with a reputable company.


One trekker who was forced to take a helicopter by her guide in 2018, after mentioning she was tired, is determined to return to Nepal to finish what she started.


Sarah Goodall explains, "I was just two-days from achieving my life-long ambition of trekking to Base Camp when my dreams were shattered by a guide who very aggressively told me that if I did not take a helicopter he would leave me to find my own way."

Sarah was then flown to Lukla where she was forced to wait for five-hours until other patients arrived and the helicopter was full. She was then flown to Kathmandu with six other travellers. On landing, there were three ambulances waiting to transport the patients. Sarah was then told that she must tell her insurer that she was the only passenger on board otherwise there might be a problem with her claim being approved. She then took a taxi to a hotel.


Upon returning to the UK, Sarah's insurer was sent a helicopter bill for $7,250 USD and a hospital bill for admission and treatment totaling $1,250 USD, except Sarah was never admitted to hospital. Upon Traveller Assist speaking to three other insurers of passengers who were on board, they had also received similar bills.


Sarah added, "I plan on returning to Nepal this year, but I'm not booking my ticket until I can be sure I'm not booking with a fraudulent company who are going to take advantage of me again."

Sarah's concerns are being echoed by many tourists on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet who are all concerned about their safety in Nepal, and who are all waiting to see if the government takes action.