The number of trekkers visiting the world-famous Annapurna Conservation Area totalled 114,187 individuals last year, a 45 percent jump from the 2015 figure when a deadly earthquake and trade embargo dealt a severe blow to Nepal’s tourism industry.
The conservation area is spread over Manang, Mustang, Kaski, Myagdi and Lamjung districts in the Annapurna range of the Himalaya, and is Nepal’s largest protected area.
According to the statistics of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), there were 95,633 trekkers from third countries and 18,554 trekkers from the Saarc region. However, the 2016 trekker numbers are still 39.10 percent below the 2014 figure.
Arrivals plunged due to effect of the 2015 earthquake. “It’s a big recovery,” said Lal Prasad Gurung, chief of ACAP. There were 35,000 more trekkers last year as compared to 2015, he said. Apart from the earthquake, the trade embargo during the peak trekking season (September-November) also affected visitor numbers, he added.
Several surveys and studies were conducted to convince potential foreign visitors that the Annapurna Circuit was safe. An assessment report prepared by Miyamoto International immediately after the earthquake showed that structural earthquake-related damage in the Annapurna region was very limited—3 percent of total buildings and 0 percent of bridges assessed.
“The news report had a positive impact on potential visitors,” said Gurung. ACAP has been keeping records of tourist arrivals since 1989. Arrivals reached a record high of 129,624 in 2014.
ACAP official Rashmi Acharya said that tourist numbers in the area had been increasing since 2006 after the end of decade-long Maoist conflict. “However, a deadly earthquake followed by a crippling trade embargo in 2015 again put the brakes on growth.”
According to ACAP, 76,407 tourists visited the conservation area in 2000. The numbers started to fall after that. In 2002, ACAP recorded 38,600 trekkers. In 2003 and 2004, arrivals rose slightly to 40,600 and 42,300 respectively. They dropped again to 36,200 in 2005. The Annapurna Conservation Area is famous for its circuit treks and Annapurna and Machhapuchchhre base camps. The conservation area can be entered through Besi Sahar in Lamjung or Pokhara.
Raj Kumar Shrestha, president of the Lamjung Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the Annapurna Circuit could attract thousands of trekkers from around the world if there was an effective promotional campaign in the international market.
“The government should conduct a massive promotional effort to lure tourists to the country.”