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Tourists stay off hills

Central Nirvana Resort Darjeeling
Siliguri/Darjeeling: The inflow of tourists in the current season in Darjeeling has hit an all-time low in recent years despite the withdrawal of the strike three weeks ago.

Stakeholders in the tourism industry said the uncertainty in the hill political scenario and recent incidents like the death of a police officer in a clash and the seizure of a huge cache of arms had developed a perception among tourists that the situation could turn volatile any time.

"After the strike was lifted on September 27, we expected at least an average flow of tourists in the current season. But it has touched an all-time low in recent years. This is supposed to be one of the peak tourist seasons in the hills, with 90 per cent occupancy in most hotels," said a hotelier in Darjeeling.

He pointed out that of the 24 rooms in his hotel, only one had been booked on Saturday. "For Sunday, there is no reservation and it seems that the hotel will remain empty for the rest of the season," he rued.

In the hills, the peak tourist season stretches from March to June and from October to November-end. There is also a steady inflow of visitors during the seven-day Christmas-New Year holiday.

Around 3.5 lakh domestic tourists and around 40,000 foreigners visit Darjeeling every year. There are around 370 hotels of different categories across the town.

The absence of tourists has made some of the hotels cut down manpower. "The earnings have hit an all-time low and most of us are finding it difficult to maintain an adequate number of staff as we need to pay them salaries and other costs," said a hotel owner.

He said that of the 34 employees in his hotel, he had retained only 17.

A tour operator in Siliguri said: "Bimal Gurung has gone into hiding and there have been some serious incidents like blasts, seizure of arms and the death of a police officer. On the other hand, Binay Tamang is trying to establish himself as the main political leader in the hills but is yet to achieve the status. All these have created an ambience of uncertainty, that the situation can turn volatile if clashes start between the two Gorkha Janmukti Morcha lobbies."

Source: The Telegraph

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