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The state of Nepal: Q&A with Intrepid’s ceo

Hannah Edensor

Following last week’s news of Intrepid splitting from TUI, we catch up with ceo Darrell Wade to find out the latest on what’s happening with its operations in Nepal.

What was the situation like in Nepal when you were there?

The situation on the ground was surprisingly normal in many ways. The roads had as much traffic as ever, the shops were bustling with locals and most buildings seemed fine.  Of course the deeper you look, the more you realise things are not normal and still have a long way to go.  There were lots of people still living in the orange and blue tents from the relief agencies.

Some areas of central Kathmandu – notably the historic Durbar Square – had very significant damage indeed. And people are still fearful partly due to the ongoing presence of aftershocks, and partly from wondering what will happen to their livelihoods if tourism doesn’t return to normal.

What stage are the recovery efforts at currently?

At an all-country level I’m probably not the best one to comment on this, except to say that there was a lot of reconstruction efforts going on.  From a tourism perspective, however, I can comment more.

The World Bank Group in conjunction with the Intrepid Group are undertaking a geo-technical survey of the main trekking areas in the Everest and Annapurna regions that is in action as we speak.  This is being conducted by Miyamoto International, the renowned seismic assessment firm.

This will test the safety of all footbridges, trails and teahouses in the major trekking regions. We expect this to confirm the anecdotal stories coming in that damage is relatively limited. I met with a person last week from Himalayan Rescue Association who had personally walked the entire length to Basecamp and she was surprised at how little damage there was.

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Is there still a long way to go to get Nepal back on its feet?

Yes and no.  In terms of rebuilding – yes, there is clearly a long way to go in many areas of the country. However, in regards to the tourism industry I expect everything to be fine for travellers in the next couple of months.  I took a helicopter to Everest Basecamp by way of Lukla and Namche Bazaar to survey first hand our major trekking route in Nepal.

The trail itself looked absolutely fine, as did the vast majority of buildings along the trail where we stay overnight. Whilst we are in the process of getting safety confirmed, it was nonetheless pleasing to see the relatively slight level of impact.

What needs to happen for Nepal to get back to the tourist destination it was before the earthquake?

On the back of what I saw, there are not too many issues in Nepal itself.  In a way it is more a marketing issue in that I think the travelling public will need assurance that it is OK to visit. Our own bookings to Nepal are currently well down, which is hardly surprising.

We’re looking at helping out by encouraging the media, our industry partners and travellers to make this the year to visit Nepal.  Not only is it safe and an amazing destination, but they will be helping the country get back on its feet through the money they spend.

What is the attitude of the Nepalese people in terms of rebuilding themselves?

This was perhaps the most heartening aspect of my visit.  There is a stoic attitude among the Nepali people. No fuss, no bother, just a quiet determination to make things better and get on with life.

I’m not sure whether this was because of their calming religious philosophies, or because they have a history of political and economic hardship, but it was certainly impressive to see.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake the Nepali people just got on with life – there was no looting like you have seen after disasters in other countries, nor were there any wild scenes at aid distribution centres.

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How is Intrepid helping the recovery mission and how can other people get on board?

We’ve started a Namaste Nepal appeal whereby all profits from Intrepid Travel’s 2015/16 Nepal season will be given back to aid organisations that will help rebuild Nepal.  So not only will the traveller themselves be helping Nepal directly by their visit, but our profits will also be making a secondary contribution.

We’ve already raised nearly $400,000 through our Nepal Earthquake Appeal and I’d love to see us hit the $1 million mark.

What is the main message to get out there about Nepal and its tourism industry?

The country remains one of the most wonderful, life changing destinations – and if you ever want to help a country personally, then there has never been a better year to visit!

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