Minister Gautam Deb welcomed a group of tourists at NJP railway station this morning as the state government and tour operators together launched an initiative to boost visitors’ confidence.
Deb’s personal initiative came at a time the tourism industry in north Bengal was racked by the turmoil in the hills.
The stakeholders of the tourism sector also launched a signature campaign at the station for “bandh free tourism,” a day ahead of the World Tourism Day.
The tourism minister, along with Siliguri police commissioner Niraj Kumar Singh, greeted the tourists who arrived by the Darjeeling Mail from Sealdah.
Deb said he had personally come to welcome the tourists to boost their morale.
“Many tourists reached here today and left for the Dooars and Sikkim. Unfortunately, most of them are avoiding the Darjeeling hills. The agitation and the strike in the hills have affected the tourism industry and adversely hit other sectors also. As the tourists have started pouring in, we welcomed them and wished them a happy trip. It would encourage them and others to visit the region,” he said.
The minister handed over roses and chocolate to the tourists.
Deb said Darjeeling was limping back to normality with shops and tea gardens reopening in defiance of the strike. “We expect the hills to become completely normal within a few days,” said Deb.
He inaugurated a help-desk at the station which will work round the clock to help tourists. Similar desks will be opened at Tenzing Norgey Central Bus Terminus in Siliguri, Bagdogra airport, and in Malbazar and Alipurduar during the ongoing tourism season.
Many tourists, who reached here today, said they had cancelled their trips to Darjeeling because of the strife there and instead, decided to visit the Dooars, Sikkim or Bhutan.
“We had a plan to visit Darjeeling and Kalimpong this time. As the state government was trying to restore normality in the hills, we waited to visit the hills. But at the last moment, we changed our itinerary as the strike is still on. We are going to Sikkim now,” Siddhartha Roy, a resident of Calcutta, said.
Representatives of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association (EHTTOA) were also present at the NJP station. They put up a large flex on the station premises as part of their signature campaign for “bandh free tourism”.
“We invited the minister, tourists and all those present at the station to sign on the flex and take a pledge for bandh-free tourism. We believe tourism should be kept out of the purview of any strike,” Sandipan Ghosh, the secretary of the association, said.
This is the message, Ghosh said, they want to disseminate among people ahead of tomorrow’s World Tourism Day. The strike in the hills has affected the tourism industry of the Dooars also.
“Tourists have started pouring in to the Dooars but the inflow is quite low compared to previous years. During the current season, we are having just 45 to 50 per cent occupancy in our resorts, as there were several cancellations. Usually, the occupancy rate reached above 85 per cent during Puja holidays,” said Dibyendu Deb, the secretary of the Lataguri Resort Owners’ Welfare Association.
He pointed out that some cancellations were made because of the shutdown in the hills.
Tourists want to cover the entire tourism circuit of Darjeeling, Dooars and Sikkim. Since the hills are shut, many tourists are avoiding the Dooars also. Another reason for the drop in the tourist footfall was the cancellation of a large number of trains recently because of flood,” Dibyendu said.