Allowing tourism in Darjeeling from 1st July, 2020 is a blunder. I understand the plight and hardships the stake stakeholders of tourism industry are facing due to recent COVID19 pandemic crisis. I too am going through this adversity, as I myself am involved in tourism management in Darjeeling and Sikkim since past many years. We are facing extremes pressure to pay loans, EMIs, lease rent to the hotels, salaries to staffs and drivers, renewing and maintaining trade license of hotels, travel agency office, vehicles etc.
The decision of the authorities of Darjeeling to allow tourist to visit the hills from 1st July, 2020 is, however, a big scam and a blunder. Now that the peak season (April-June) is over, I am well aware that the industry experienced severe loss, as business could not operate as usual, due to the lockdown. However, opening hotels and tourism activities, at this juncture is not a solution. Here are my observation as why the decision to re-initiate tourism is a biggest blunder:
1) The most important issue is of safety. Allowing tourist to visit hills will expose our hill community to the virus. Increased movement of Airways, Railways and roadways will bring in more symptomatic and asymptomatic carries of the virus and this would definitely increase the transmission rate. Who would be responsible for that?
2) Societies/samaj in the hills are doing commendable job in facilitating home and mass quarantine in local level. This has been showing a good result till now. It is definite that the authorities cannot afford to quarantine all the tourists. It is in no way feasible to thoroughly inspect all the tourist entering through the check points and send them for quarantine. Only thermal screening won’t be enough to detect the virus. The situation then would be entirely haphazard. The endeavors of our local samaj and societies would be in vain.
3) It is to be noted that the peak season (April-June) is already over. It is a general observed trend that the tourist turnover during the months of July- September is significantly lower. During this time rain related disasters such as landslide or natural blockades are frequent due to which very less tourist shows up. Allowing the tourist won’t ease the difficulties and problems of the tourism stake holders. Further, we should be aware that the hotel staff, drivers or other people involved with the tourist would have high chance to be infected. Who will take responsibility in such cases?
4) The entire world is under lockdown. What I don’t understand is that the Govt. of West Bengal has decided to extend the lockdown till 31st July, whereas the Darjeeling administration under the same Govt. has is planning to open Darjeeling for tourism from the 1st of July. Is there anything more confusing?
I being one the concerned stake holder of the tourism industry of this region would like to the request the concerned authority to kindly reconsider the decision to open the hills for tourism. Other alternative and innovative measures can be adopted to revive the tourism industry. If the authorities are really worried about the tourism sector then kindly consider 1) waiving the tokens of taxies and fitness papers, 2) waiving trade license, renewal fees and electricity bills of the hotels, 3) provide loans to travel agents, drivers, hotel owners and staffs. We will be grateful if you consider this basic necessities as of now rather than rushing to open hills to the tourists which we consider is an act to please Nabbana.
Writes: Yeowan Gurung