KATHMANDU - Nepal has begun distributing free mobile SIM cards to newly arrived visitors in a bid to attract tourists and allay safety fears after last year’s devastating earthquake and avalanches, an official said Thursday.
The quake last April ripped through the Himalayan nation, killing nearly 9,000 people and triggering avalanches and landslides that destroyed trekking routes and trapped tourists in isolated areas. Officials on Wednesday started handing out the pre-activated SIM cards loaded with 50 rupees (50 cents) to all tourists arriving at Kathmandu’s international airport.
‘Since the tourism industry has suffered in the aftermath of the earthquake... we need to tell the world that Nepal is still a safe destination for visitors,’ Nepal Tourism Board spokesman Sharad Pradhan told AFP. ‘The cards will be helpful in tracking trekkers and carrying out rescue operations immediately.’ The SIM cards are the latest measures designed to jump-start tourism after last year’s quake that sparked a deadly avalanche at Everest base camp and destroyed the popular Langtang trekking route. The cards are being handed out ahead of the main April-May spring mountaineering season to help track trekkers travelling to remote areas and aid in any emergency rescue operations. Trekking groups in Nepal are required to have a guide with them, although independent hikers are permitted to travel alone. The impoverished country relies heavily on tourism for revenue. Kathmandu this week announced it was extending the climbing permits of mountaineers forced to abandon Everest following last year’s avalanche that killed 18 people at base camp.