Insurers give Nepal ultimatum over chopper rescue scammers

Insurers were billed more than $6.5 million on 1,300 helicopter rescues in the first five months of 2018, prompting the Nepali government to launch an investigation on the racket. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2019

Insurers give Nepal ultimatum over chopper rescue scammers

  • A government probe identified 15 companies — including helicopter firms, trekking agencies and hospitals — linked to the lucrative racket
  • ‘To be clear, this is an ultimatum!’

KATMANDU: Tourists visiting Nepal will not get insurance coverage from next month onward unless Katmandu cracks down on fraudulent helicopter rescues of trekkers in the Himalayan nation, international firms warned Friday.
A mass pull-out by the insurers would seriously dent Nepal’s vital tourism industry, which just celebrated welcoming over a million tourists for the first time last year.
An AFP investigation last year exposed a racket where dodgy trekking outfits pressure tourists into needless and costly airlifts, or bill multiple times for a single flight.
Nepal’s government launched an enquiry in June after insurers were billed more than $6.5 million on 1,300 helicopter rescues in the first five months of 2018.
The government’s probe identified 15 companies — including helicopter firms, trekking agencies and hospitals — linked to the lucrative racket. But no action has been taken against any of the alleged perpetrators.
In a letter to Nepal’s minister of tourism, Traveler Assist, an Ireland-based company that represents international insurers, warned that unless the government brings charges against these companies by February 15 its clients will cease to issue insurance.
“To be clear, this is an ultimatum!” Jonathan Bancroft, managing director of Traveler Assist, said in the letter seen by AFP.
“Please don’t be under any illusion that the fraud has stopped. It has not. If our clients stop issuing travel insurance policies in Nepal, it won’t be long until other insurers do the same,” he wrote.
Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari said investigations are under way to penalize and charge fraudulent companies.
“We are deeply committed to taking action against them. The government will make no compromises in this regard,” Adhikari said.
The helicopter scam has become such a money-spinner that some budget tour operators are luring customers by selling treks at below cost price — knowing they can make enough profit on kickbacks when the tourists are evacuated.
The trekking operators, lodge owners, helicopter companies, and even hospitals pocket the extra cash.
There are also reports of guides putting baking soda — a laxative — in food to deliberately make trekkers ill and necessitate their rescue by helicopter.
In some cases, trekkers themselves opt for a quick ride home knowing their insurance will pay, while others are being scared into rescues for minor illnesses.
In September, Nepal introduced guidelines to control fake rescues following a warning from insurers but industry insiders say that the scams continue.


Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa residents celebrate Guinness World Record recognition

The dates produced in the region are renowned throughout the Kingdom and the world for their quality, and the lush greenery and cool weather have helped to make Al-Ahsa one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. (SPA)
Updated 10 October 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa residents celebrate Guinness World Record recognition

  • The oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees feeding on a huge aquifer through 280 artesian springs

RIYADH: People who live in and around Al-Ahsa Oasis reacted with joy and pride on Friday when it was revealed that Guinness World Records has recognized it as the largest self-contained oasis in the world.

The achievement was described as testament to the loving care and hard work that goes into maintaining the millions of palm trees that grow there. They cover an area of 32.9 square miles and are watered by a network of 280 artesian springs.
The dates produced in the region are renowned throughout the Kingdom and the world for their quality, and the lush greenery and cool weather have helped to make Al-Ahsa one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Mohammad Alkhudayri, a licensed tour guide in Al-Ahsa, said he hopes the recognition by such a renowned organization will inspire more people to visit the oasis and enjoy its beautiful scenery.
“The oasis of Al-Ahsa is more than 6,000 years old, and for all those years it has remained as vibrant and rich as ever,” he said. “Some of the trees are thousands of years old. It is only natural that such an achievement would be recognized, especially given the amount of love and effort that went into maintaining the area over all these years.”

The oasis of Al-Ahsa is more than 6,000 years old, and for all those years it has remained as vibrant and rich as ever. Some of the trees are thousands of years old.

Mohammad Alkhudayri, a licensed tour guide in Al-Ahsa

The number of fruit-bearing date palms in Al-Ahsa exceeds 2.5 million, Alkhudayri added. Many residents rely on them, and so are deeply devoted to their care.

Al-Ahsa oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers. (SPA)

“The people of Al-Ahsa are so proud of their date palms,” he said. “They provide them with sustenance and with something beautiful to look at. Even other parts of the tree, such as the trunk and the leaves, are used to make equipment, furniture, baskets and so on. For anyone in Al-Ahsa, date palms are vital to their way of life.”
Mohammad Almelhem, whose family owns and operates a date farm in Al-Ahsa, said that the palm trees are synonymous with Al-Ahsa, and that the dates they produce are “the best in the world.”
“We Hasawis have a deep relationship with our palms,” he said. “They are our greatest blessing and we look after them so that they will look after us.
“Our hard work ensures that you will never get a sweeter-tasting date anywhere, or find a more beautiful and peaceful place to grow or eat them.”
Almelhem also said he hopes that the recognition by Guinness World Records will encourage more people to visit the region, as it has so much to offer to offer tourists and yet its attractions are relatively unknown.
“The city is modernizing but there is still so much heritage here for people to discover,” he said. “Visitors are always surprised when they come because they don’t expect to see as much as they do.”
Al-Ahsa Oasis is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the Hegra in AlUla, the Turaif neighborhood in historic Diriyah, the historic Al-Balad district in Jeddah, and the rock art sites in Jubbah and Shuaimis in Hail.