SEATTLE — Tourism is growing in Nepal. In 2017 alone, a record-setting 940,218 tourists visited Nepal, a 210,668 increase from the previous year. As a result, an additional $1.9 billion was contributed to the Nepalese economy. Furthermore, 1,027,000 jobs were supported by the tourism industry. Given the industry’s expansion, it can be an incredibly effective strategy to reduce poverty through tourism in Nepal.
However, mainstream tourism oftentimes leaves this potential untapped. Frequently, those living in poverty are disconnected from the tourism industry. Instead of providing a source of income to the roughly 15 percent of Nepalese that are living on less than $1.90 a day, the majority of tourism revenue ends up in the pockets of already well-to-do businessmen and investors. To make things worse, the increased volume of people can place further strain on resources. Already limited access to food and water is diverted from the struggling poor to the profitable tourist centers.
That being said, tourism can be a great source of poverty alleviation. Tourism has the potential to introduce much-needed economic opportunities to local villages. If managed properly, it can sustain a market in which locals support themselves through entrepreneurship, and it can provide an influx of funds that allow villages to invest in local infrastructure.
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking and Empowering Women of Nepal
The Chhetri sisters are three women who have decided to reduce poverty through tourism in Nepal. Lucky Chhetri, co-owner of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, told The Borgen Project that “tourism can be a great development tool for all the third world countries because a destination where there is a challenge will be the best tourism destination.” She explains that the natural landscape of these developing countries can be the country’s best asset. Tourists are willing to invest a lot of money and time in order to travel to these countries and tackle the challenges that the terrain presents. Lucky believes that tourism is one of the best strategies for alleviating poverty in developing countries.
In 1994, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri founded the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking agency and the NGO Empowering Women of Nepal. Through these companies, the Chhetri sisters began training local women to become adventure tour guides in the city of Pokhara. The city contains an entrance to a popular Himalayan hiking trail called the Annapurna Circuit. Over the past 25 years, the company has expanded to include locations in Everest, Langtang, Helambu, West Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India.
The company was inspired by conversations the sisters had with single women who stayed the night in the sisters’ lodge. The sisters were stricken by the number of single female travelers who confessed that they felt unsafe because their male tour guide had behaved inappropriately. Lucky thought of a solution: if women did not feel safe traveling with male trekking guides, why not create a company staffed by female guides?
Lucky’s solution was controversial. In the 1990s, Nepalese women were discouraged from venturing out of their houses, let alone leading an expedition up one of the world’s highest mountain peaks. But having completed her own mountaineering training only four years before, Lucky saw no reason why women could not overcome the social stigma. Recognizing the potential to provide women with a chance for self-sufficiency in a male-dominated economy with limited employment options, the sisters reached out to the women of the local communities and let them know about this new program.
Job Training Programs One Way to Reduce Poverty Through Tourism in Nepal
The opportunity that 3 Sisters offers consists not only of skills-based training but also access to free education. For the first four weeks, women are enrolled in English language courses. While learning the necessary mountaineering and trekking skills, the women also take courses in women’s health, environmental preservation, geography and more.
After completing the necessary training courses, the women are offered a six-month paid apprenticeship to allow the women to gain work experience in guided trekking. For the duration of their apprenticeship, the women are provided with housing accommodations.
In this final stage of the program, the women are offered salaries that are competitive with the salaries of experienced male trekking guides. The salary is enough to not only covering trekking costs but also allows the women to put money into savings. Furthermore, the position offers insurance benefits and access to the necessary trekking equipment.
After completing the program, the majority of these women have gone on to careers in the trekking tourism industry. Some have continued their education through refresher courses provided by Empowering Women of Nepal. Others return to their home villages where they share the knowledge they have gained. No matter what path they take, the one thing that all these women have in common is financial self-sustainability and a lasting sense of empowerment.
In 1994, the Chhetri sisters set out to “extend educational, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to marginalized or disadvantaged women from all over Nepal,” as Lucky described it. Since then, thousands of women have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Chhetri sisters. Given the extent of its social impact and the financial success of the business, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking is a useful model for how to reduce poverty through tourism in Nepal.
– Joanna Dooley