By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal will ask international experts to assess the safety of Mount Everest trekking trails in an effort to convince tourists it is safe to return after two devastating earthquakes closed most routes.
The quakes, on April 25 and May 12, killed almost 9,000 people and shook mountains triggering avalanches that killed scores of climbers and guides. Experts say catastrophic landslides could be triggered during this monsoon season that begins in mid-June.
Tourists fled the Himalayan nation after the first quake and hotels and trekking companies said they have suffered heavy cancellations ahead of the autumn.
Tourism, including trekking and climbing permit fees, contributes about 4 percent of Nepal's gross domestic product.
"After the earthquakes, many trekking groups started raising questions about the safety of hikers," said Tulsi Prasad Gautam, the head of Nepal's tourism department. "Their cost of insurance also began to rise. Therefore, we are undertaking the study to increase their confidence."
Geologists from Europe, Japan and Singapore have shown an interest in conducting the studies, said Ramesh Dhamala, president of Trekking Agents' Association of Nepal.The main focus of the assessment would be in the Annapurna and Everest regions which attract 70 percent of trekkers, officials said.Nepal has been urging tourists to visit if they want to help it recover. The country is one of the poorest in the world and many depend on tourism for their income.Climbing on Mount Everest is closed for the second climbing season in a row after Sherpas refused to rebuild broken paths across a deadly glacier and mountaineering companies said it was too dangerous to ascend.
Langtang valley, Nepal's third most popular trekking destination, remains closed after the quake triggered a catastrophic landslide that buried hundreds of people in one village in the valley.
In a sign of the dangers ahead of this monsoon season, heavy rains triggered a landslide killing at least 13 people, including children, and dozens were missing in the Taplejung district in east Nepal on Thursday.
(Editing by Malini Menon)