Darjeeling hotels retract call to shutdown from July 1, tour operators see hope
Darjeeling hotel owners association has reversed its decision to suspend operations during the off season beginning July 1, triggering hope that it may encourage gradual restoration of tourism to the Darjeeling-Kalimpong and the Dooars tourism circuits that support around 50,000 jobs.
Stakeholders in tourism business in the Darjeeling region of West Bengal were relieved with the retraction of the decision rooted in fears that the flow of guests to the region, choked by the coronavirus induced lockdown, was unlikely to pick up despite easing of restrictions in the off season beginning July. The association also felt paying salaries to staff may not be possible after June.
The Darjeeling Hotel Owners Association (DHOA) had earlier termed it was pointless keeping the hotels open and declared that staff would not be paid after July 1 and will receive only 35 per cent salary for April, May and June. It predicted that the tourism industry would be among the last to recover from the effects of the nationwide lockdown.
Anit Thapa, chairman of the board of administrators of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), said, “Differences over payment of salary to hotel staff will be sorted out within a week. A committee has been constituted to find a solution.” The employees’ trade unions are opposed to the proposed salary cut.
Travel Agents Association of Bengal (TAAB) has welcomed the decision saying it will send a positive message to tourists, some of whom have started enquiring about trips to Darjeeling.
“A section of tourists will not be deterred by the pandemic. They know we will have to live with the virus for some time. The Darjeeling-Kalimpong and the Dooars tourism circuits provide employment to more than 50,000 people. There are 380 hotels in Darjeeling and its outskirts. They accommodate nearly 4.5 lakh tourists every year,” Nilanjan Basu, secretary, TAAB, said.
The decision was also welcomed by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). Ajoy Edwards, the spokesperson for the outfit, had earlier threatened to move the Calcutta High Court if hotels went ahead with the shut down call.
Samrat Sanyal, general secretary, Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network requested the government to look at the financial issues faced by the hotel owners in the region.
“There is not going to be an influx of tourists right now. The government should look into the problems faced by hotel owners and their employees,” said Sanyal.