Puja tourism feels the pinch of liquidity crunch

September 26th, 2008 - 12:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 26 (IANS) The global economic crisis and liquidity crunch in the country are taking a toll on tourism in West Bengal, with private operators and hoteliers complaining of a sharp drop in bookings for the coming festive season in the state.”Foreigners are not booking in bulk. Local bookings are also not up to the mark. The liquidity crunch is taking its toll on the tourism industry,” said Anil Punjabi, east zone chairman of the Travel Agents Federation of India.

“People go on tours when they have extra money. But this year the economic scenario is not at all that congenial for tourism,” Punjabi told IANS.

“Last year, the inflow of domestic tourists during the Durga Puja season was more than 100,000. But this year, the footfall will drop at least 10-12 percent.”

West Bengal becomes a tourist hub during October and November when foreigners and people from other parts of the country throng the state to soak in the spirit of the autumnal festive season that includes the star attraction: the four-day Durga Puja festival.

With all schools and colleges closed, people in the state go on short tours, adding to the coffers of those in the tourism business.

The usual hotspots within the state are the hill towns of Darjeeling, often referred to as the Queen of the Hills, Kalimpong and Kurseong, apart from forests in Jaldapara, Dooars and Gorumara.

The mangrove forests of the Sunderbans, another major tourist destination in the state with people taking winding boat rides, do not hold any attraction at this time of the year.

“Not many tourists are attracted towards coastal Sunderbans during this time as the festival season begins just after the monsoons and the water levels in the rivers rise,” Sunderbans Development Minister Kanti Ganguly told IANS.

Tourism in Darjeeling, which accounts for substantial revenues for the state government, has also received a jolt following the political unrest in the recent past. But local businessmen are trying hard to gain back the confidence of tourists.

“The reality is that there is absolute peace and calm in Darjeeling,” Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association vice-president Pradeep Singh Arora said.

“We are suspending all our agitations in Darjeeling during the Puja,” said Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) general secretary Roshan Giri. The outfit spearheaded the recent political movement demanding a separate Gorkhaland.

Arora said that despite repeated assurances to tourists by hotel associations and travel associations, bookings this time are lower than last year.

“We are expecting around 70,000 Indian tourists. As far as foreign tourists are concerned, we are expecting around 10,000. Last year, the figure was over 90,000,” he said.

According to him, Darjeeling hoteliers expect revenues of about Rs.80 million from room rent as against to Rs.150 million last year.

Darjeeling, which has approximately have 3,500 hotel rooms, is however gearing up for the festive season.

Residents have been asked to wear their traditional dresses from Oct 7 to Nov 7 to add to the ethnic atmosphere and spice up the festive mood.

Besides this, there are plans to have daily cultural programmes during the Puja season. “We have been asked to illuminate all the hotels to send out the message to the tourists that we welcome them to this beautiful hill station,” Arora said.

During the month-long festive season, Darjeeling hoteliers expect 15 days of full occupancy and 15 days of partial occupancy.

Other than the hotels, tourism industry in Darjeeling fetches revenues for other industries like tea, travel and handicrafts.

Though the private players are talking about liquidity crunch and slump in the tourism sector, the state government’s tourism arm, the West Bengal Tourism Development Corp (WBTDC), has a different opinion.

“We have a sales target of Rs.2 million this year during the festive season,” WBTDC general manager Chinmoy Chakraborty told IANS.

Asked whether the state department is also observing any slump in tourism, he said: “Almost all the government resorts are booked. We don’t see any such slump.”

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