Since a deadly 2015 earthquake, Nepal's 2,600 trekking companies have had to lower their rates to attract a smaller pool of explorers eyeing Himalayan peaks. They've made up for the lost income with what a government report describes as a multimillion-dollar insurance scam involving tour operators, helicopter companies, hotels, and even hospitals, reports Outside. Nepal's tourism ministry on Sunday issued new rules requiring the submission of rescue invoices to a government committee after the report found operators encouraged trekkers to abandon climbs for the slightest of reasons, then pressured them into taking expensive helicopter rides to hospitals, which overbilled insurers, per the Guardian. In some cases, guides even served trekkers food laced with laxatives to sicken them, per the report.
Hired to investigate why 2017 was the most expensive year for some insurers, British trekker Danny Kaine says a guide "became quite aggressive" in suggesting a helicopter rescue when he complained of a headache on a five-day trek to Mount Everest's base camp. "My final bill was $12,800—for a headache," Kaine tells the Guardian. "They are losing money on each trek and need to make it up," he adds, noting some travelers were paid more than their $500 trek fee to feign illness. Another hiker suspects an operator pocketed $35,000 by telling 10 people flown together to a Kathmandu hospital (because one had a common cold) to claim they had each traveled alone, per Outside. That way, the bill was for 10 helicopter rides, not one. Several insurers had threatened to pull out of Nepal if the country didn't act to interfere in the scam by Sept. 1. (Read more Nepal stories.)