Hoteliers and stakeholders associated with the tourism industry in the Hills are happy with the administration’s decision to allow hotels and restaurants in Darjeeling and Kalimpong Hills to resume operations.
Both the magistrates of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts issued orders to this effect yesterday. Addressing the president, Darjeeling Hotel Association, Darjeeling DM S Ponnambalam, said: “Operation of hotels and restaurants are allowed in areas outside the affected area (Containment Zone) as per memo No. 218CS/2020 dated 30.05.2020, Government of West Bengal maintaining Social distance norms and health hygiene protocol.” Notably, hoteliers in Siliguri had already started operations since 8 July. Significantly, the hospitality industry is down and there is virtually no fixed room rent, sources said.
Convener of the Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT), Raj Basu, said: “West Bengal is restarting tourism from the Sunderbans to Sandakphu. A state, where residents are known for their travel across the country and where they consider Tourism as their 2nd Religion, was almost under house arrest for the last six months.”
“The main tourism season usually starts from Mahalaya, which will be observed 17 September this year. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it is totally different for this year because the Puja days will begin 30 days later,” Mr Basu said, adding, “We have decided to work on ‘Suraksha & Suvida,’ awareness at rural destinations, where villages are part of tourism,” he added.
According to Mr Basu, the “new normal tourism operations” will be a challenge when the rush arrives. “Siliguri hoteliers will get an opportunity to revive their activities for education tourism as the National Testing Agency has set centres here for conducting the NEET on 13 September. Though the state has announced a lockdown on 11 and 12 September, if hundreds of NEET aspirants and guardians can come and stay in hotels in Siliguri from 10 September, the hospitality industry can be revived and several staff will come back to normal jobs before Mahalaya,” he said.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has planned to appeal to the state government to change the dates of the lockdown in the interest of education tourism centering Siliguri.
CII , North Bengal Zonal Council, Chairman, Sanjit Saha said: “CII is happy that the main source of employment of this part of the country can fight back to normal routine. We are proud to be a facilitator of that and thankful to the West Bengal government for giving importance to issues regularly raised by the CII.”
Reacting to the decision to allow operations of hotels and restaurants, Mr Saha said: “We hope our brothers and sisters associated with tourism will not have to go to sleep with an empty stomach this Durga Puja. In the interest of development of education tourism, we will appeal to the state government to change the dates of the lockdown before the NEET exam here.”