Nepal could lose more than 300,000 tourists this year as a result of the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks which forced mass departure of tourists and prompted many to change their travel plans.

Tourism Ministry spokesman Mohan Krishna Sapkota informed the parliamentary Development Committee on Tuesday that the country could lose up to 40 percent tourists —320,000—year-on-year. The country received nearly 800,000 tourists last year.

Based on the Rs46 billion foreign exchange earnings from tourists last year, the country is likely to lose Rs18 billion this year. The sharp drop in arrivals is also likely to affect livelihood in the mountainous region, particularly among the people who depend on tourism income.

Almost all the foreign sightseers left the country immediately after the earthquake, affecting the business of hundreds of restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Even domestic and international airlines have suffered huge losses following the crisis.

The repercussions are estimated to continue at least until 2017. Sapkota told lawmakers that tourist arrivals are projected to shrink 20 percent both in 2016 and 2017.

Tourism is the worst-hit sector with an economic loss of Rs62.37 billion, according to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report prepared by the National Planning Commission. The tourism sector requires Rs41.33 billion for reconstructing and rebuilding, the report said. The sector has sustained damage worth Rs18.86 billion and the spiraling losses could total Rs 81.24 billion.

Meanwhile, the report said that the country’s heritage sites have suffered damage worth Rs19.22 billion while Rs20.56 billion will be required for their reconstruction. The government has adopted a build-back-better approach to restore the sites.

Tourism Ministry spokesman Sapkota said the government had requested DFID/Samarth, currently engaged in rural market development programme that aims to reduce poverty in Nepal, to audit the damaged trekking routes in the Annapurna region. The Annapurna trekking routes attract more than 100,000 visitors annually.

The government has also requested the World Bank/IFC to audit the trekking routes in the Everest region. More than 35,000 trekkers tour the region annually.

The objective of the audit is to ensure the safety of visitors. Sapkota said the government was discussing ways to arrange financial resources for the project.

“The government has been taking measures to boost visitor confidence,” said Sapkota. Despite concerns raised by Unesco about the reopening of heritage sites, he added, the ministry took the step to lure back tourists .

Tourism Secretary Suresh Man Shrestha said the government would be promoting Nepal by bringing in celebrities and high-profile visitors, particularly to assuage safety fears. A campaign would be launched on social media to promote tourism.

Currently, campaigns like Visit Nepal Autumn, Help Nepal Tourism and Nepal is Safe have been launched on social media platforms in a bid to build visitor confidence.

After a high of 1999, tourist arrivals in Nepal started to slump, first by the 9/11 attack and then by the escalation of the Maoist conflict in the country. Tourist arrivals continued to slide for three straight years--from 2000 to 2002.

Though there was a slight improvement in 2003 and 2004, arrivals again declined in 2005 when then king Gyanendra imposed his direct rule. It was the peace agreement between the government and the Maoists that arrested this slump in 2006.

The country had received 383,926 tourists in 2006. Post-2006, the tourism sector had bounced back with the figures crossing half a million mark to 526,705.

However, arrivals were affected with frequent strikes in 2008 and 2009.

The industry bounced back in 2010 breaking all past records after the government announced Nepal Tourism Year 2011. Arrivals rose to 602,855 in 2010 and continued the upward trend with tourist figures touching 736,215 in 2011 and 803,092 in 2012.