Gurung promises strike-free Puja – Darjeeling gets ready to woo tourists

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, July 30: Hotel owners here are lining up Puja bonanzas to woo vacationers to the Queen of the Hills after getting an assurance from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that there will be no strikes during the festivities.

The next tourist season starts from September 15, but the main rush is during the fortnight-long Puja vacation. Hotel owners in Darjeeling can expect to rake in around Rs 3 crore in that period, an industry source said.

Sangay Tshering Bhutia, the president of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association, said: “The association representatives met Morcha president Bimal Gurung last evening and he assured us that there would be no strikes during Puja.”

Gurung said Puja was an important festival when a large number of tourists come to Darjeeling. “We will not disturb the festivities.”

Tourism, which plays a significant role in the local economy, was badly hit when the Morcha called an “indefinite” strike during the tourist season in May-June, virtually forcing visitors to leave the hills overnight.

Now representatives of the association will leave for Calcutta to attend a three-day trade and travel fair to be held at Netaji Indoor Stadium from August 2. “We will attend another fair in Bhubaneswar on August 7-9,” said Bhutia.

The Calcutta fair will be crucial for the tourism industry in Darjeeling since during Puja holidays, the maximum number of tourists come from Bengal.

This year, the hotel industry plans to extend the off-season “discount” period beyond September 15 to woo tourists. A number of hotels are also planning packages with up to 30 per cent discounts for children studying in Darjeeling and their parents, if they decide to spend their vacation in the hills.

“We will also organise tourist festivals in Darjeeling and Kalimpong,” said Bhutia.

The association members said Gurung had told them that development projects relating to the improvement of tourism infrastructure in the hills would not be stopped.

During the last tourist season, hotel owners said, footfall had decreased by about 30 per cent. The hotel industry suffered losses amounting to Rs 6 crore in June and July this year because of the Morcha agitation, the source added.

An estimated 3.5 lakh domestic tourists and about 30,000 foreigners visit Darjeeling annually, though no official figures are available.

“Darjeeling usually sees a large number of tourists from Germany, the UK and New Zealand. Since they plan their trips a year in advance, the effect of the recent strikes would continue to be felt till early next year,” said Bhutia.

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