Nepal's travel industry, a vital sector of the country's economy, is facing a new challenge. The government's recent decision to impose a value-added tax (VAT) on the tourism industry has sparked criticism from various travel trade organizations. The new tax regime, which includes a 13% VAT on trekking and tour packages, airline tickets, and a luxury tax on the services of five-star and luxury hotels, is seen as a potential threat to the recovery of the tourism sector, which is still reeling from years of shutdown.
The New Tax Regime and its Implications
The government's decision to impose VAT on the tourism industry has been met with widespread criticism. The private sector has accused the government of implementing such a rule without proper research, potentially making travel more expensive and negatively impacting one of the country's key economic indicators. Ramesh Thapa, president of the Nepal Association of Tours and Travels (NATTA), expressed concerns that the new VAT would discourage the travel sector, which is already burdened with multiple taxes.
The Potential Impact on the Tourism Sector
The new tax regime is expected to hurt the tourism sector, which is currently in recovery mode after years of shutdown. Entrepreneurs worry that the series of taxes imposed on the tourism sector will make Nepal an expensive destination, potentially discouraging foreigners from traveling to the country. Nilhari Bastola, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), expressed concerns that Nepal, once an affordable destination, is becoming increasingly expensive, which could lead tourists to choose other destinations like Ladakh in India due to cost factors.
The International Perspective
The imposition of a 13% VAT on the aviation sector is also seen as a violation of the provisions of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). According to the ICAO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, no taxation on the sales or use of international air transport should be levied. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also urges all states to ensure that international air transport is fully exempt from VAT.
The Need for Consultation and Transparency
The decision to impose VAT on the tourism industry has been criticized for its lack of consultation with the Nepal Tourism Board and the private sector. Chandra Prasad Rijal, vice president of the Nepal Tourism Board, described the decision as haphazard and expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on the tourism industry.
The new tax regime, if not reconsidered, could pose a significant threat to Nepal's travel industry. It is crucial for the government to engage in dialogue with industry stakeholders and consider the potential implications of such decisions on the country's economy.