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With Darjeeling reeling under protests, tour operators in Kolkata have been forced to reschedule or reroute upcoming bookings made to the hill station. In a bid to curb their losses during peak season, a large number of tour operators are rescheduling upcoming trips to a later date. As a result, neighbouring state Sikkim is seeing an influx of tourists who chose Gangtok over Darjeeling.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Biren Gupta, proprietor of private tour operator ‘Metro Travels’ in Kolkata, said: “After yesterday’s violence, our clients no longer want to visit Darjeeling. They are unwilling to go there under present circumstances. As a result, we are left with no option but to reschedule their bookings to another date. We are advising them to visit during Puja vacation. If they agree, we will make all necessary arrangements to reschedule the booking.”
According to him, the ongoing tension in the hills will dry up further bookings. “This is the peak season, and if the protest continues, we will lose further bookings. Darjeeling has always been a favourite place for Bengalis to go on vacation, and less bookings to the ‘queen of the hill stations’ means less business for us,” the tour operator added.
For Balaji Tours and Travels in Barrackpore, convincing its clients to reschedule proved to be a daunting task. “Instead of rescheduling the date, we are rerouting bookings. I had a booking for Darjeeling from June 13 onwards, and my clients were coming from Chennai. With my client agreeing for a change in location, I have asked them to visit Gangtok and Pelling in Sikkim. This way, I will lose less money and my clients will be happy,” said Mukesh Singh, owner of Balaji Tours and Travels.
Those who have already taken advance from their clients have found themselves in a very complex situation. The owner of Chowdhury Tours and Travels at C R Avenue in the city, Subhait Chowdhury, said he was receiving multiple calls from clients asking for refunds.
“The situation has landed us in deep trouble. We have already paid the hotels, and they are unwilling to give us a refund because the unrest has been created by a political party, which is an external force.
“If we don’t get refund from hotels, how can we refund our clients?” he said. He also said the 12-hour strike in Darjeeling hills had affected the return journey of tourists from Sikkim.
“One of our clients, who was on a vacation to Gangtok and was supposed to return today, was stranded at the Sikkim-West Bengal border as protesters in Kalimpong were not allowing any vehicle having West Bengal number plate to enter the state. We had to arrange vehicles having Sikkim number plate to rescue my client. This cost us greatly, as almost every vehicle is charging Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 per trip,” he said.