GANGTOK, October 30: The second tourist season of the year, which started from mid September to the end of November has witnessed a boom in the inflow of both domestic and international tourists.
According to the latest data from the Tourism Department, the month of September 2007 alone saw 18,098 domestic tourists visiting Sikkim. Although the data does not specify the numbers of the international tourists, it reads 549 for the month of July 2007. No data has been updated after that by the department.
Sikkim has become one of the hot spot tourist destinations because of its natural beauty and serene environment. One can neither deny the fact that there has been an inverse ratio in terms of the domestic and international visitors. Majority of the tourist visiting Sikkim are from the neighbouring West Bengal. The State had the maximum domestic visitors in the month of May with 59,621 tourists visiting Sikkim followed by 51,231 tourists in the month of April.
But Secretary Tourism, GP Upadhaya is not happy. “In this season, the flow of tourist was not too good owing to the landslides and bad road conditions,” he said.
Tallying the data of the past three years, there has been an approximately 1000 number of tourists increase annually which perhaps is not too much given the hype and the word-of-mouth publicity the State has received over the years. The total number of domestic tourists visiting Sikkim in 2005 was 2,51,697 and 3,02,486 the following year. Meanwhile the international tourists visiting Sikkim in 2005 was 16,827 and 1,80,26 in 2006.
He also informed about adopting the new tourism policy which will attract more tourists and upgrading the existing tourism infrastructure all over the State. He said that the Ministry for Tourism has sanctioned Rs 80 crores and Rs 20 cores by DONER for the development of tourism infrastructure in the State.
The construction of the ropeway at Tsomgo Lake and Namchi will be commenced soon, the Secretary informed while stating that the State will see more ropeways within a span of three years. Mr. Upadhaya added that the Department is focusing on developing tourist destinations in other parts of the State, in order to reduce the load from the Capital. “Our priority will now be on developing village tourism across the State, so that the visitors will get a chance to experience the real Sikkim and get up close and personal with our people, culture, food and of course, the natural beauty,” Mr Upadhaya added.
The recent decision of the State Government to keep the MG Marg free from vehicle traffic is being seen as a positive step towards promoting tourism in the Capital. “It is a good move, because this will now allow the tourists as well as the locals to experience the concept of a Mall, which is characteristic of any hill station,” the Secretary said.
Meanwhile, tour operators says that the ever increasing hotels, tours and travels and the taxis, the business of tourism has become cut-throat. “The recent strikes in Siliguri also hampered the tourism business this year, which led to the cancellation of many bookings,” said Raju Tamang of High Mountain Tours and Travels. Mr. Tamang also said that emphasis should be given to quality tourism promotion for attracting more international tourists and at the same time not neglecting the domestic crowd.
But taxi drivers are not happy this season, particularly with the decision of the Chief Minister on prohibiting MG Marg from entry of vehicles. “This was the prime destination from where we used to get lots of reservation from tourists, but now we are having hard time. The prohibition has hampered our business,” a taxi driver retorted.
Despite the sluggish pace, the tourism sector is optimistic. “We hope that the inflow will gather speed now that the road conditions have improved. The next two months will be crucial,” said a tour operator.