Sunday, June 17, 2007


And so is their highhanded treatment by tourism officials

GANGTOK, June 13: At a time when there is been a tremendous increase in the inflow of tourists to Sikkim, reports of a majority of tourists complaining about the denial of ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ treatment, an initiative of the Tourism Department to attract hosts of both international and domestic tourists every year, may came as a rude awakening.

Tourism is one sector that has been identified as one of the most sustainable industries for Sikkim, with tremendous potential for growth. Sikkim is the late starter in the development of tourism because it joined the mainstream of India in the 1975. Yet among the North-Eastern states, Sikkim draws the largest number of tourists.

The domestic tourist arrival from April 2004 to March 2005 was 4, 17,394 (approx). As with regards to the inflow of domestic tourists from April 2005 to March 2006 was 2, 57801 while from April 2006 to March 2007 is recorded at 3,02,693 meaning a 15 percent increase over last year’s record.

The international tourist arrival from April 2006 to March 2007 is 18,371. Majority of the hotels in and around the capital, like Hotel Tashi Delek, Golden Pagoda, Chumbi Residency, Hotel Rendezvous, Hotel Tibet and others did witness an increased tourist inflow by over 15-20 percent this tourist season.

The inflow of tourists in the current season was mostly from places like Mumbai, Kolkata, Haryana and from Gujarat and Ahmedabad. The cleanliness of Gangtok and its surroundings, the historic re-opening of Nathula Trade route, the polite and hospitable attitude of the local populace has helped a lot in the increase in the inflow of tourists on an annual basis.

Despite the heartening increase in the inflow of tourists, there are many who complain of the existing pathetic condition of the roads in Sikkim alongside restrictions on the tourists interested to catch a glimpse of Nathula during the course of their stay in Sikkim and tremendous hike in the taxi fare especially at a time when the tourist season is at its peak.

Interactions with few tourists from Kolkata, it was revealed that they were moved by the clean and healthy ambience of Gangtok, yet at the same time expressed their grievances against restrictions imposed by state government for visiting Nathula – one of the most talked-about tourist attractions in East Sikkim.

Likewise, the hike in helicopter ride rate from the earlier fare at Rs 1200 to the present Rs 2,000 learnt to have brought great dissatisfaction especially amongst some young tourists from Gujarat.

“The need of the hour is to upgrade, encourage and open up more of such tourist attractions spots, besides the existing tourist attractions including Tsomgo Lake and Nathula alongside Rumtek Monastery, Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok and other places located in and around Gangtok”, opined a popular tour operator in the Capital.

Worth mentioning would be the impolite and inhospitable attitude of those seated at Tourist Information Centre in the Tourism Department. Complaints had been reportedly received from many tourists regarding the incorrect information about places of tourist interest given by those seated in Tourist Information Centre.

“Whenever we approached the Tourist Information Centre for some relevant information and brochures and particulars about the existing tourist spots in the state, they answer to our question in an unwelcoming and in unpleasant gestures”, grumbled Anandya Bhowmick, a tourist from Kolkata. They are totally indifferent to all of our queries related with places of tourist interest, he added.

At the first instance, the frowning faces alongside the arrogant nature of the people especially the women folks at Tourist Information Centre would spoil the very first hour of the day, another from the same gang opined.

Some of them have even suggested that there should be a rigorous training session for the people deployed in the Tourist Information Centre so that one can avail of the fullest of knowledge and understanding of the etiquettes and discipline as is required by them during the course of their daily routine of disseminating the proper information about Sikkim tourism to the tourists.

“The inflow of tourists particularly with the domestic tourists has increased by 20 % in the current year as compared to that witnessed in the previous year”, Commissioner cum Secretary to the Department of Tourism, GP Upadhaya said. He opined that one of the main reasons behind an encouraging inflow of tourists in Sikkim every year is owing to the state being bestowed with magnificent natural beauty alongside an ambience of peace and tranquillity, good governance and perfect law and order and above all the optimal emphasis of the present state government towards promoting tourism industry in Sikkim.

The Tourism Department is always at the forefront in identifying more tourist attractions besides the existing ones in its endeavour to attract hosts of tourists and thereby increase upon its revenue on an annual basis, Mr Upadhaya added.

When asked to comment on the regular restrictions being imposed on the tourists interested to visit Nathula, the Tourism Secretary said inadequate parking space for vehicles at Tsomgo and Nathula and the cleanliness-drive undertaken by army personnel every Mondays and Tuesdays of the week has brought about restrictions on that part for the tourists.

Around 45 taxi vehicles carrying tourists ply to and fro from Gangtok to Nathula 5 days a week. Here, he clarified that the Tourism Department has thought it better to impose restrictions on the ever-increasing plying of vehicles to Nathula rather than the tourists being made to encounter traffic congestion in a small parking space there. An individual tourist would always love to experience the joy of catching a glimpse of Nathula in an ideal atmosphere away from traffic congestion, he said.

Learning about the inhospitable gesture of the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) staffs, the Tourism Secretary he said that as of now he has not received any of such complaints directly from the tourists, and said even if there are grievances of such kind, he would definitely look into the matter and solve the same at its earliest.

Mr Upadhaya said the tourists who have been denied of ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ by the staffs at TIC can approach him directly over the issue and thereby avail remedy to all their grievances. “If necessary, more orientation training programmes would be conducted especially for the TIC staffs to help them serve the tourists in a better way”, the Tourism Secretary rounded off.