Sikkim beams with positivity towards Tourism

The year 2020, was a bad year for the North Eastern states which earns a major portion of the state’s revenue from tourism, and likewise, Sikkim is no different. Sikkim, which is a major tourism destination for both domestic and international travelers, suffered a lot as the state lost revenue and also many people lost jobs and their livelihood due to the impact of Covid-19 and subsequently lockdown.

But now with the tourism season back, the state is hopeful of a good season and a good possibility to bounce back. According to data from the Sikkim government, as much as 15% of the state’s population is directly or indirectly relying on the tourism industry to sustain, and keeping this in mind it was very important for Sikkim to reopen tourism.

With its picturesque landscape, Sikkim is one of the most sought after tourism destination across the country.

Till the month of November, Sikkim had recorded 3,279 COVID-19 cases with 2,640 recoveries and 54 deaths.

With the tourism season back to its peak, both the Sikkim state government and the tourism entrepreneurs in the state are looking forward to a good and productive season, and are hopeful of a good turnout of tourists in the season.

There is no official data available on the number of tourist footfall, but the tourism stakeholders estimate that on an average anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 tourists have been arriving in the Himalayan state daily.

According to official data, over 16 lakh tourists, including about 1.40 lakh foreigners, had visited the state last year.

“We have taken a conscious decision not to have over 4,000 to 5,000 tourists daily. Since hotels are operating at 50 per cent capacity, the occupation rate right now should be around 60 to 70 per cent of the reduced capacity,” Roshan Raj Shrestha, the president of Sikkim Hotel and Restaurant Association (SHRA) told media.

With the seven-month halt in tourism operations, businesses and individuals directly and indirectly linked to the industry have faced severe losses and many even had no other options but to shut down their tourism related business.

“We are looking forward to a good season this year, and let’s hope that the tourism entrepreneurs are able to recover from the losses which they suffered. It has been a terrible season for all of them,” said a senior official of the office of the Chief Minister of Sikkim.

Entrepreneurs associated with tourism in the state echoed the voice of the official and said that apart from the big entrepreneurs- even businesses associated with tourism has been severely affected.

“Due to the lockdown, the hospitality business at large has taken a major hit in Gangtok and Sikkim. Hotel staff and related businesses — taxi owners, tour and travel enterprises — have borne the brunt of it as well, but with the restrictions being lifted now, we hope that things will return to normalcy soon and tourist volumes will return to the pre-Covid levels in the near future,” Satyam Sahu of Nirvana Hotel, Gangtok, told media.

The tourism industry in the state is resuming operations after months of inactivity due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. In a 23-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) the state has said that tourism is one of the key sectors in the state.

According to officials of the tourism department of the Sikkim government, the state government doesn’t want to take any risk and is very cautious while opening the state for tourists, and also added that key directives have been issued to all the district heads of tourism and also the district administration.

“The office of the chief minister is also monitoring the situation round the clock, and we have asked all the tourism related services to be responsible and also to ensure that all directives related to the SOP are followed by every tourist.  This is crucial as well a critical period, and we can’t afford to take any chances,” said the official.

Meanwhile, in a major boost up to the small scale tourism entrepreneurs in the state, the Sikkim government has announced that the state government will be putting up major investment to promote rural tourism and home-stays in the state.

Sikkim chief minister P. S. Tamang recently announced a slew of projects for homestays that are currently being drawn up.

Speaking at the concluding day of the three-day Temi Autumn Carnival in the Temi tea garden in South Sikkim, the chief minister said the thrust of the homestay project would be totally local so that tourists got the feel of the Himalayan state.

“The mega project could be of Rs 100 crore, maybe Rs 200 crore or even Rs 500 crore,” he said.