Even as the indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling hills stands suspended, tour operators here are apprehensive about the return of tourists anytime before the next summer. The shutdown in the hills, that went on for 104 days and was suspended by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung only last Tuesday, has already taken a heavy toll on Darjeeling’s tourism sector.
“We don’t feel that the tourism industry will be back on track very soon. As the industry has suffered heavy losses; as far as tourists are concerned, they won’t be back before the next summer,” Raj Basu, convener of Association for Conservation of Tourism told PTI.
Tourism and tea are the two biggest industries in the hills, generating over 80 per cent of the employment here.
Tourists from different parts of the country as well as from abroad flock to the picturesque hill town and its adjoining areas that are nestled among the mountains and lush greenery during this time of the year.
The tourist season in Darjeeling starts from April and continues till Durga Puja in September/October. During the season, footfall of tourists in the hills is typically above 2 lakh.
According to tour operators, revenue generation during the peak tourist season runs into crores of rupees. But this time around, the scene is drastically different.
A hotelier, who runs a chain of hotels in Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Gangtok, said most of the hotels in the hills were now facing severe shortage of manpower as they had to ask their staff to leave during the three-and-a-half month long strike.
“All the hotels are closed for the last three-and-a-half months. We had asked our staff to leave when the strike began. Now, we need to find people to clean up the rooms before we can start afresh,” he said.
“The tourism industry in Darjeeling is like a chain, where if one part gets hit, the entire industry suffers. Because of Darjeeling, tourism business in surrounding areas have also been hit badly,” Samrat Sanyal, a tour operator, said.
For the last two days, tour operators, like Sanyal, have been contacting their trade partners, briefing them about the latest developments and urging them for some help in bringing the tourism sector back on its track in the next few months.
West Bengal Tourism minister Gautam Deb, however, was optimistic about the revival of the tourism industry in Darjeeling, saying the government would extend all help to make it possible.
“The strike has affected the tourism industry badly but we will do everything possible and extend all sorts of help to revive the industry,” Deb said.