Cashing in on Altitude?

Nepal recently announced a new plan to “rent out” a number of unclimbed Himalayan peaks to private tour operators and guides, in addition to cutting climbing fees on other commonly climbed mountains. It is hoped that this plan will help grow tourism revenue for the cash-strapped country, which already relies heavily on tourism dollars for a relatively large portion of its national economy. It is also hoped that the effort will help to fund a number of infrastructure and capacity-building initiatives.

There are positives and negatives, however. Potential investors who smell a new opportunity, mountaineers with their eyes set on new summits, and tour operators who see new sales have all supported the plan. The government sees it as a way to both raise new money and relieve some of the horrendous crowding on Everest, Annapurna, and other major peaks. Environmentalists have also welcomed the move, as expedition-style climbs often leave an appalling trail of trash behind on alpine trails. However, there have been grumblings. Many in Nepal feel that the Himalayas are not for sale, and “renting” them out to private enterprises is an attempt to privatize something that is not only a national asset (and which therefore belongs to all Nepalese) but also priceless.

Time will tell how these competing forces play out. If it works, the move may show a new way towards sustainably monetizing Nepal’s remarkable natural beauty. It may demonstrate a new way in which public and private actors can complement one another to create economic value from natural resources in a sustainable manner. If it’s done poorly, it may create private gain at the expense of both the broader public and the environment. Stay tuned.

Image credit: Dnor and WikiCommons