The Government of Sikkim is taking some innovative steps to promote its tourism sector. Ugen T. Gyatso, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Department, Government of Sikkim, spoke to BE’s Saptarshi Deb.
Q. What policies are being undertaken to strengthen the Institution of Network of Stakeholders (INS) associated with the Sikkim tourism industry?
A. The state government has always worked in close co-ordination with the various stakeholders associated with the tourism industry of the state at every level. We have tried to create a conducive environment for Private-Public Partnership (PPP) for promoting tourism in the state. Tourism societies have been formed at the village, sub division and district levels in order to effectively monitor and propagate various tourism related activities at different levels. The Tourism and Civil Aviation Department under the visionary leadership of the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling has worked tirelessly to achieve positive outcome in the ecological, social, cultural and economic fields along with a robust community involvement in promoting tourism. This has significantly helped in achieving promotion, providing employment, environment sustainability and partnerships for tourism development from the local level.
Q. How is the state government encouraging private participation in the sector?
A. Tourism stakeholders have always been a partner in development and promotion of tourism in the state. The stakeholders are encouraged to actively participate in all tourism events, fairs and festivals, both within and outside the state and country. Suggestions of these stakeholders are taken in by the department and implemented where necessary. Feedback and suggestions were taken from the stakeholders while drafting the Sikkim Tourism Policy -2018. Capacity building and sensitisation programmes are conducted for these private stakeholders at regular intervals by the government. The assets created by the department are often run by stakeholders in the larger interest of the tourists.
Q. How are you trying to promote the cultural diversity of your state to aid the tourism sector as envisioned by the ‘Feel Sikkim from within’ coinage?
A. Sikkim, true to its tag line, “Sikkim…Where Nature Smiles”, is a wonderland blessed with natural abundance, rich and diverse demographic structure with a myriad of communities and religions and intricately knit colourful cultures. However, the basic connecting factor is the warm, welcoming nature our people. The phrase “Atithi Devo Bhava” finds its true meaning in Sikkim.
The striking feature of Sikkimese society is its colourful culture. The varied ethnic communities of Sikkim intermingle freely. An amalgamation of their different ways has resulted in a unique culture that is essentially ‘Sikkimese’. All communities that inhabit Sikkim express their joys and desires with their own distinctive folk dances and festivals. Their rituals, folk songs, musical instruments, traditional dresses, make up and dances all combine to form their cultural heritage that is uniquely their own. With diverse and colourful culture and traditions, Sikkim has much to offer to the visitors along with nature and adventure. Festivals and festivities are integral part of every community. Many of these festivals are either ritualistic or simply celebrated in order to promote tourism in the region. Some coincide with agriculture practices while some are celebrations of birth of Gods and Goddesses while many others are mythological celebrations. There are varieties of handicrafts and handlooms which are created by the local people. Different parts of the state have distinct landscapes and natural beauty. The people living in these areas celebrate tourism festivals every year to promote tourism. During these festivals, the local people showcase all tourism products of that area. The culture, traditions, folk dances and musical instruments, traditional attire, Sikkimese arts & crafts, flower and traditional Sikkimese cuisine prepared by the locals can all be witnessed in one place. One of the most popular and major festivals organized by the state’s tourism department is the Sikkim Red Panda Winter Carnival which is held every year in December or January where people from all walks of life are encouraged to participate with their own tourism products and also showcase their culture.
Q. What efforts are being undertaken to integrate the economic wellbeing of the indigenous rural population with the growth trajectory of the tourism industry?
A. Rural tourism is one commendable initiative of our government towards compliance of ecotourism instincts for and by the people of Sikkim. Having realised the delicacy of the eco-system, the plan is to divert the masses towards the villages. However this has be done in a regulated manner so that carrying capacity and other environmental issues are properly addressed. Community development through sustainable or responsible tourism is a priority. Homestays is one aspect that has been greatly supported by the state government. Capacity building training to the homestay operators with other support in the form of hardware components has led the people at large coming forward to develop homestays, making it a successful venture both in terms of ensuring economic benefits to the local community as well as picture perfect serene natural holiday experience in the hinterlands of Sikkim for the tourists. The state government is also in the process of creating websites for homestays for better marketing and promotion of their business. Further, the creation of Rural Tourism Facilitation Centres (RTFCs) at various locations to facilitate the promotion of community based tourism is being undertaken seriously by our government.
Q. How is the government trying to popularise relatively less known tourist destinations and what incentives are being provided to private players who are aiming to explore such destinations?
A. The department produces publicity materials which are updated at regular intervals covering all new destinations for free distribution. This includes posters, brochures, folders, trek and route maps, etc. These are helpful for the largescale publicity of upcoming destinations. Further, the tourism stakeholders are frequently given an opportunity to promote their products and services through various tourism marts and fairs and festivals both within and outside the state. Recce of the emerging destinations are done to understand their feasibility. Further, the department promotes the destinations through its official website and other social media platforms.
Q. Is there any policy that aims at linking tourism with horticulture and agriculture?
A. Sikkim Organic Mission- the ingenious flagship project of Government of Sikkim, conceptualised by the Chief Minister Pawan Chamling is today a making point in the world that is increasingly concerned about the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in agricultural products. Sikkim voluntarily adopted to go organic under the guidance of our Chief Minister. Apart from contributing to the economy of the Sikkimese farmers, the mission also offers multiple benefits to the state and especially to the tourism sector. Organic Mission when connected with ecotourism is a double attraction for tourists particularly at homestays. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of Sikkim but also gain health benefits by consuming organic products grown locally in the farms nearby.
Q. What steps are being taken to promote adventure tourism?
Sikkim is blessed with natural beauty and picturesque landscape with altitude ranging from 300 m to 8,586m above sea level. This makes it a perfect travel destination for those seeking adventure in the Himalayas. Various adventure activities such as trekking, mountain biking, paragliding, mountaineering, rafting, bird and butterfly watching, rock climbing and yak riding have now become synonymous with the state. The Indian Himalayan Institute of Adventure and Eco-Tourism (IHCAE) at Chemchey, South Sikkim, which is first-of-its’s-kind institute in the region, offers high standard adventure and ecotourism related trainings with special emphasis on installing the concept of adventure tourism without causing environmental degradation.
For the mountaineers, some peaks below 7000 metres have been opened for expedition by the government. The department also helps in the recce of new trekking and hiking trails. Besides, 2018 has also been declared as the Year of Adventure Tourism by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. We have also decided to promote adventure tourism in the State and have planned a series of adventure related activities. Further, the government has prescribed Basic Minimum Standard (BMS) and guidelines to regulate all adventure activities being conducted in the state and have also operationalised a ‘Standard Operating Procedure for Search and Rescue’ in case of any mishap or accident.
Q. How much progress has been made by the government in enhancing road connectivity as it directly impacts the tourism sector?
A. Connectivity of Sikkim to the rest of India depends solely on NH10, which connects Sikkim to Siliguri and the rest of India. All major tourist destinations within the state are well connected with all-weather good roads. Widening of existing roads, double laning, and construction of new roads are being done across the state.