The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration has decided to open sightseeing points in the Darjeeling hills in a staggered manner from July 1 when hotels and homestays also will start accommodating guests.
The decision comes at a time hoteliers are receiving enquires about travel and staying protocols in the hills. Even though there are enquires, the travel industry is worried about local people’s response to tourist arrivals amid Covid-19 pandemic.
Suraj Sharma, assistant director of tourism, GTA, said the hill body had held a meeting with tourism stakeholders and the Darjeeling district administration on Monday. “We will open sightseeing points in a staggered manner from July 1,” said Sharma.
To start with, the GTA will throw open the gates of Tiger Hill, Rock Garden, Ganga Maya Park and Batasia Loop in Darjeeling, and Deolo Park in Kalimpong from July 1.
“We will first test the waters. Depending on the feedback, we will reopen rest of the properties under the GTA, like the lake in Mirik,” said Sharma.
The hill body also plans to write to authorities of Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and ropeway. These are popular tourism sites in Darjeeling but are not under the GTA.
All tourist places will be properly sanitised on a regular basis. “We will adopt standard operating procedures (to fight Covid-19) and direct hotels also to do the same from July 1,” said the GTA official.
According to government guidelines, hotels are open but the industry is still in lockdown mode in Darjeeling and has no bookings at the moment.
Tourists from Calcutta had to return from Darjeeling recently after locals had objected to their stay at a hotel.
Taxis will be allowed to carry passengers in 50 per cent of the seating capacity.
The GTA said it would request travel agents and tour operators to encourage visitors to ride in private vehicles.
More thermal screening centres will also be set up in the hills. “We are planning to set up single entry points for tourists, like those coming from Sikkim,” said Sharma.
Tourism is a major source of revenue in the hills and the sector has been badly affected by the novel coronavirus .
It is estimated that more than 4.5 lakh tourists visit the hills annually.
A hotelier said properties at “standalone locations” and a bit further from settlements might be benefited by the decision to open the sightseeing points. “Fingers are, however, crossed,” he said.