TOURISM: 40% fall in hill tourist inflow – Political turmoil & bad roads result in low footfall – simplistic reasoning doesn’t hold any water, how about Bengal’s colonialist gross neglect of the infrastructure of these areas ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, Oct. 25: The festive season has failed to bring joy to the tourism sector in the subdivision with a 40 per cent fall in tourist inflow compared to last autumn.
Tourism stakeholders believe many factors — mainly (*?!!) the political turmoil and poor condition of roads — were responsible for the poor tourist arrival even though the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has so far not carried out any political programme that would deter visitors from holidaying in the hills during the festive season. (the main reason for the agitation still eludes Bengal ?!!)
On the contrary, the party has been organising a month-long cultural programme in the hills as a two-pronged strategy to woo tourists as well as to score a political point by highlighting the cultural difference between the Gorkhas and the rest of Bengal.
“The tourists might have decided against coming to the hills, perhaps, because of what happened in the past couple of years when many of them were forced to leave the hills at a short notice because of political trouble. You hardly see any tourists in town. I have spoken to my colleagues and most of them say the bookings have been very low — maybe coming down by as much as 40 per cent,” said Sanjogita Subba, a former president of the Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association of Kalimpong (Horak).
Transporters and other engaged in tourism business, too, have confirmed that the visitor arrival has been very low this time. “Even those who halt here for at least a night on their way back from Sikkim are few and far between. The condition of the roads could be a reason for their not coming here, as they do not want to risk missing their trains and flights from New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra respectively on their way home,” said Dawa Lama, a driver.
The pitiable condition of the road is definitely the reason for the poor tourist turnout in Kafer, which along with Lava, is one of the two tourism hotspots in the subdivision. “The road to Kafer from near Lava is maintained by the forests (read the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation). However, despite many approaches, they have not bothered to repair the road, citing funds crunch. We, the local people, have been carrying out patchworks from time to time to keep the road motorable,” said Dorji Sherpa, a hotelier in Kafer.
According to Sherpa, tourists have already thinned in the thickly forested Kafer, which over the years has become very popular with domestic visitors. “All the hotels were packed for only four days this time. Other times, the hotels used to be packed for over 15 days,” he said.
Sikkim ready to review Japan tour project – while Sikkim grows in leaps and bounds ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, Oct. 25: The first draft of the proposed eco-tourism policy of Sikkim under a Japanese International Cooperation Agency-funded project is expected to be released to all stakeholders here for review in the next two weeks.
The governments of India and Japan had signed the agreement in March for the JICA-assisted Sikkim Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Management project. Its total outlay is Rs 330.57 crore and under it, afforestation activities over 4,300 hectare of forest areas will be taken up during the 10-year period of the project in the state.
The main components of the project is the formulation of eco-tourism policies and streamlining eco-tourism activities that aim to benefit local communities living in the forest fringe areas. About 23 per cent of the total outlay is proposed to be spent on the eco-tourism component of the JICA-assisted project, forest officials here said.
“Me and Sikkim forest officials have initiated talks with all stakeholders including tour operators, village-based communities and NGOs to get their suggestions and ideas on the proposed policy. We had our first stakeholders meeting on October 13 and the first draft will be finalised in the next two weeks. Copies of the draft will be circulated among all the stakeholders. We will wait for their comments and pick up feasible suggestions,” said Kazuishi Watabe, a Japanese consultant hired by the JICA to assist the state forest department to formulate the policy.
“My role is to give suggestions and assist in the formulation of an eco-tourism policy for Sikkim,” he said.
Watabe had started working in Sikkim from October 10 and he will be here for 45 days working closely with the forest department. He will be back again in April to assist in finalising the draft of the proposed policy.
“The second draft will be ready at the end of November after holding seminars. The third and final draft will be ready in April next year following which it will be submitted to the state government for approval,” said Watabe. He said the thrust of the eco-tourism policy would be to promote and develop unexplored areas of Sikkim.
The Japanese consultant said the policy should have provisions to build the capacity of the villagers to sell their agro products and to become tourist guides for bird watching, butterfly and flower tours especially orchid sightseeing.
The state additional principal chief conservator of forests, Anil Mainra, said the eco-tourism component of the project has two principal objectives — to provide income generation opportunities to local communities living in the forest fringe and to ensure that the impact of developing eco-tourism does not damage the environment.
Mainra said the measures suggested to improve eco-tourism of Sikkim were to address the difficulties encountered by foreign tourists (the targeted group of visitors) to obtain Inner Line Permits and also to do aggressive eco-tourism marketing, develop infrastructure and build the capacity of local NGOs and village-based communities.