Will you get insurance for your next adventure in Nepal?

With insurance agencies suddenly putting a deadline of September 1, 2018 on continuing to insure adventurers in Nepal, the Nepal Government has stepped in to say they will now manage this. How much they will manage and how this will actually be accomplished is still a work in progress, though Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general at the Department of Tourism has stated: “Minister, secretary and representatives from different companies are scheduled to meet tomorrow to finalise the guidelines.” helicopter, everest, rescue, nepal Dropping into Pheriche for a pick-up, Nepal. For years now, shady trekking operators have offered low price treks, then encouraged anyone with as much as a headache or stomach pain to evacuate.  Payoffs to guides, the heli companies and even the medical services seem to be part of the chain of funds skimmed off, with the insurers paying the bill. With tourism such an important part of the Nepal economy and Nepal Tourism pushing to double this by 2020, any negative press is being dealt with quickly. How effective this will be in Nepal is being questioned by many, due to a track record that doesn’t invite much confidence. As an Agence France Presse article stated: Global Rescue has made repeated attempts to report instances of wrongdoing to the government. But this has made them deeply unpopular among some of the biggest players in Nepal’s tourism industry who have lobbied the ministry to have Global Rescue’s team of international experts kicked out of the country. “They don’t like having our personnel on the ground who can identify their bad behavior and call it what it is: fraud,” the company said. There are many precedents for centralised, government led rescue services  working in alpine environments, from the Alps to Alaska, which save lives every season. But as anyone who has worked in Nepal knows, an international precedent isn’t necessarily a route to success here. Yet it isn’t difficult to set what the goals should be:
  1. Legitimate rescues need to happen fast – they can’t be slowed down, as particularly with altitude related medical issues , every second counts. From first contact, to organizing the right services, to delivery and care at a hospital, there are a host of things that all have to happen quickly. Any delay potentially puts peoples lives at risk.
  2. Quality – helicopter and medical services aren’t cheap. I don’t think many of us want to be rescued by the cheapest helicopter service, nor do we want to be taken to the cheapest hospital. Like anywhere in the world, quality costs money. Having a bidding process for services or capping prices when there will be variables needs to be allowed for.
  3. Transparency – the instances of fraud and number of rescues should be called out – along with the number of rescues vs the number of trekkers. For some companies, a rescue on every trek is a sure warning sign. Some companies will have full seasons with little or no rescues – a good question to ask when booking a trek or climb. And once this is done, ongoing transparency into the accounts of the rescue service itself, now mentioned as being organized through the police, needs to be ongoing.
  4. Confidence – for Nepal to build on tourism numbers:
    • trekkers and climbers need to know that if they really need it, they will be rescued as quickly and safely as possible,
    • rescue services, from Helicopters to Hospitals need to know they will be fairly compensated,
    • and the insurers want to know they are paying a fair price.
It is not yet clear whether the police will be actively involved in rescues themselves – which obviously will involve much specialized training and take some time. Legitimate operators will be more than happy to talk about their rescue policies, number of rescues and relationship with insurers. Simple things like taking time to acclimitize (a fast trek to the heights virtually guarantees some will get altitude sickness and need to be rescued), guide to client ratios so people can be walked down and the group carry on, sat. phone availability and double checking your insurance coverage, is a good start. Here is yet another opportunity for Nepal to build some confidence in their services. With the September 1 deadline rapidly approaching and the vitally important and largest trekking season in Nepal a month away, it would be a very positive move for this to be resolved quickly.