December 14, 2016 12:25:02 am
Tourism, the economic lifeline of north Bengal, is likely to take a hit this holiday season due to the scarcity of cash caused by demonetisation, admitted industry stakeholders. Half of the tourists who arrive there each year do not book ahead (making on-spot arrangements instead), and were therefore likely to stay away in January, they added.
In New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri, tourists usually book hotels, cabs and guides through cash payments. “They make travel and accommodation arrangements on their own. In many cases, tourists finalise their transport after reaching transit points like Bagdogra airport and New Jalpaiguri railway station. Similarly, they select and finalise hotels after reaching the destination,” said Samrat Sanyal, executive president of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.
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“Three-star or higher grade hotels usually have card machines. But the smaller ones in the Dooars or the hills do not have this facility,” he added.
Homestays, most car rentals used for sightseeing or travelling to transit points and even pre-paid taxis require cash, tour operators explained. “The situation is unbelievable. We usually get a lot of tourists between Christmas and mid-January. This year, we are expecting less than half of what we get. Tourism is seasonal and this will hurt us for days to come,” said Mahesh Das, a tour operator in Siliguri.
As per officials, Darjeeling, Dooars and Sikkim cumulatively have around 5,000 hotel rooms, 85 per cent of which are occupied during the Christmas-New Year season till January-end. Gauging by the demand this season, occupancy could taper at 65 per cent, said a source.
This will also impact the state government’s increased budgetary allocation to tourism this year, which is almost 25 times the 2010 allocation. In the 2016 state budget, finance minister Amit Mitra had allocated Rs 295 crore to the tourism department, an increase of almost 25% since the previous year and almost 25 times the 2010 budget (for tourism). The government had repeatedly harped on its plans to make north Bengal a hub for tourists from European countries through better infrastructure. But now, with demonetisation, an official explained, “The infrastructure is virtually ready and we had hoped that from this Christmas season, we would see increased government revenue. But it is not to be.”
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