The political unrest in Darjeeling involving the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and the West Bengal government is expected to negatively impact the tourism industry in Darjeeling. Tourists who had planned to visit the “Queen of Hills” have either cancelled their bookings or had to leave disappointed after the unrest surfaced. Many travellers were stranded after violence erupted.
Jyotsana Patel from Jamshedpur had booked hotels in June for her solo trip to Darjeeling in August. She cancelled her hotel bookings after reading about the unrest. She informed, “I had hoped that the tension might reduce in a month but since that did not happen, I changed my mind and cancelled my trip.” There were several other tourists who had to cancel their bookings and shift it to some other destination. “I am planning to visit Dooars now, as it seems an ideal destination for a solo trip,” added Jyotsana.
Darjeeling usually receives around four lakh visitors a year. The tension in Darjeeling has been a boon for other tourist destinations. For the people of Bengal, Darjeeling has always been a preferred hill station but after the unrest people are opting for other destinations like Digha, Dooars, Sikkim and Gangtok. The peak season to visit Darjeeling usually begins from mid-March and stretches till the first week of June. The next season starts from September and continues till December. “While Darjeeling is one of the most popular hill stations in India, tourist interest and business has witnessed a slump after the recent agitation. The effect of this can also be seen in Gangtok and Siliguri. We expect that travellers will return in the October-December peak season. Tourists have diverted to places like Lataguri, Jaldapara and Jaigaon. Shillong, Mandarmani, Puri and Digha have also witnessed growth in bookings and claimed a significant proportion of Darjeeling-bound travellers after the unrest,” a company spokesperson from Oyo informed BE.
Ajeet Kumar, a domestic holiday expert, said, “We have no bookings for Darjeeling now. People are sceptical about choosing it as their holiday destination. We have cancelled all the bookings for Darjeeling and have diverted it to other places. The customers are facing problems but we are trying to compensate their losses. People are interested to visit Kerala and Goa during the Puja holidays.”
As the tension persists, tour operators fear that this year will witness a fall in footfalls in Darjeeling. Riddhi Roy, Operations Manager, Dolphins Travels, informed BE, “Darjeeling and Kashmir have always been a hot cake for every travel agent. Both these destinations are now out of bounds for political issues. This has hit the travel agents. Right now, we aren’t getting any bookings for Darjeeling. Hopefully things will improve. But for this season we are witnessing a lot of rush for Shimla, Kumaoon and the Sangla belt. A destination which has really surprised us with overwhelming response is Arunachal Pradesh.”
In 2015, Darjeeling was the third most googled travel destination in India. Every year around 50,000 foreign and 500,000 domestic tourists visit Darjeeling. The disruption has caused negative impact on both the government of West Bengal and the Gorkhas as well. The agitation caused by the GJM has hit the state’s economy. Tourism and tea gardens are the two major industries in the hills, generating over 80% employment. Business in Darjeeling has come to a halt as the most of the shops are closed. There are people who don’t have any job now as there are no tourists in the area. “More than 80% of domestic and international tourists have stopped coming to Darjeeling due to the agitation. Local shopkeepers and tour operators are also suffering due to which the economy is getting badly affected,” Prasoon Srivastava, CEO and Founder, Filtel Travel Private Limited, told BE. The revenue generation during the peak tourist season in Darjeeling runs into crores according to tour operators in the region. The region will continue to suffer if the government is unable to resolve the issue in time.