40% fall in hill tourist inflow – Political turmoil & bad roads result in low footfall

The Telegraph

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.

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.

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