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Nepal Earthquake: Quake Deals Blow to Nepal's Landmarks and Tourism

Many tour companies have canceled all upcoming trips to the area and are offering refunds or alternate destinations.
/ Source: NBC News

The earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday killed more than 5,000 people and destroyed many buildings around the country, one of the poorest in the world. It also laid waste to some of the nation's landmark temples, which draw thousands of tourists to the country each year.

More than 800,000 international tourists visit Nepal each year, with travel and tourism contributing more than 8 percent of the country’s total $66 billion GDP (gross domestic product) in 2013 and close to 9 percent in 2014. Before the quake, the World Travel & Tourism Council had predicted those numbers to rise by 5.8 percent for 2015.

Many of those visitors head to Nepal to tour Buddhist temples and other religious and cultural sites, for wilderness adventures and to scale Everest and other mountains. Those plans will have to be curtailed.

"I am deeply aggrieved by the magnitude of human loss caused by the earthquake in Nepal," said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, which works to promote and preserve world heritage sites. "I am also shocked by its devastating impact on the unique cultural heritage in the country."

Bokova said the organization was planning to send a mission to assist national and local authorities as to how it can conserve the remaining sites and recover what can be recovered.

'Piles of tinder sticks'

“Dozens of temples are reduced to piles of tinder sticks and rubble,” said Joe Bindloss, a Lonely Planet guidebook editor.

Extensive damage was done to Kathmandu Valley and the famous Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, said Bindloss. Patan and Bhaktapur have also had landmark buildings lost, though key structures remain. The landmark Dharhara Tower in Kathmandu, however, has been completely destroyed.

Tour operators around the world are working to get their customers safely out of Nepal. Many companies have canceled all upcoming trips to the area and are offering refunds or alternate destinations.

Intrepid Travel for example, had 23 group tours running in Nepal at the time of the earthquake with 168 travelers in total, all of whom are accounted for and safe. The company has canceled all departures to Nepal until May 11th, at which time it will reassess plans for itineraries that include its Experience Nepal, Everest Base Camp and Annapurna adventure tours.

“Currently, large parts of central Nepal are a crisis zone,” said Lonely Planet’s Bindloss, “and tourists are likely to hinder rather than help the relief effort. Turning up and offering to help is not advisable and unless you have direct experience of emergency relief work, so it’s best to donate rather than getting in the way and taking up valuable resources that are needed by local people.”

While Seattle-based Crooked Trails has no trips to Nepal planned for the next month or so, “for future trips I will be working closely with my in-country operators and partners and communities to help me determine when they are ready to resume operations,” said company executive director Christine Mackay.

She added that Crooked Trails plans on adding four trips in the fall as "volun-tours," which will help rebuild the communities they visit.

“Nepal needs tourism dollars so I would not shy away from running programs there," said Mackay.