The Kathmandu Post, Post Report, 18th April 2017, Kathmandu
The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (Taan) are close to ending their four-year-old dispute over sharing fees collected from foreign trekkers.
NTB Chief Executive Officer Deepak Raj Joshi said that the matter would be resolved within three weeks. According to the NTB, Taan will receive nearly Rs250 million in unreleased payments.
Foreign tourists who wish to walk in the mountains are required to obtain a Trekkers Information Management Systems (TIMS) card by paying a fee ranging from $10 to $20 per person.
The NTB and Taan each receive 30 percent of the total funds collected from TIMS cards. Another 30 percent goes into their joint fund. The rest of the money is deposited into the workers’ welfare fund.
Joshi said two separate committees formed to look after the arrears and other legal issues would be submitting their reports soon. “Based on the reports, Taan will receive its share from the amount that has been deposited in the NTB’s account.”
Joshi said that payments had been halted following orders from the parliamentary International Relations and Labour Committee. Recently, the NTB released Rs18.8 million in advance for Taan to pay its staff and rent.
The umbrella organization of trekking agencies has been charging NTB of misusing fees collected from foreign trekkers, and threatened to explore its options if the finances were not made transparent. It had threatened that if the issue was not settled immediately, it could introduce its own trekkers’ information system.
“Delays in releasing the payment has affected reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by the 2015 earthquake,” said Karna Bahadur Lama, general secretary of Taan. Lama said that lack of funds had been affecting Taan’s day-to-day activities. “We will not be able to conduct rescue operations in the mountains if the TIMS account is not activated.”
Taan claimed that they were also not aware about the number of TIMS cards that NTB issues annually. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project’s record shows that 114,000 trekkers visited the area in 2013-14, but NTB statistics reveal that only 60,000 TIMS cards were issued, said Lama.
“We do not know how many cards are printed and issued annually as there is no proper monitoring mechanism to oversee their distribution,” said Lama.
Taan has charged that many cards have no serial numbers or holograms on them. The government collects Rs160-170 million from TIMS cards annually. It is mandatory for foreigners to obtain a TIMS card before visiting any trekking area in the country.
Mountaineers with climbing permits issued by the Department of Tourism and the Nepal Mountaineering Association are required to obtain yellow cards by paying Rs2,000. Similarly, group trekkers and FITs from Saarc countries are charged Rs300 and Rs600 respectively.