Dashain (Puja) has arrived and so have tourists in Darjeeling after months of lull induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Samir Singhal, the treasurer of the Darjeeling Hotel Owners’ Association, said almost all hotel rooms in the hill town were booked at least for the next 10 days. “Starting from today (Sunday), most hotels are fully booked. However, this tourism season is a short one and the flow is expected to taper off after October 22,” he said.
There are around 370 hotels in the Darjeeling town.
Since May, tourism had been badly hit with many hotels completely shutting down their business until recently following a surge in Covid-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic.
The industry had suffered through the first wave in 2020.
“However, after the number of positive cases went down at the end of 2020, Darjeeling had a record footfall of tourists in January and February,” said Singhal.
It was a clear sign that people cooped up at their homes for months were looking for a getaway. Even though the tourist arrival went down drastically after the second wave swept the country, tourism stakeholders hope the industry has left its worst behind.
“We have also started getting corporate enquiries for bookings right till January. Most of the people working in the corporate sector seem to have received their second dose of Covid vaccine. In fact, we already had a few corporate meetings at our hotel,” said Rajesh Rajak, general manager, Pinetree Spa and Resort.
Travellers are required to produce either a two-dose vaccination certificate or a 72-hour-old RTPCR negative test report.
Not only hotels but even homestays have received good bookings. “My bookings are good till October 24. Ninety per cent of the travellers are from Bengal,” said Shoyeta Chatterjee, owner of Pahari Soul homestay at Dali, Darjeeling.
Homestays have mushroomed across the hills over the past few years.
Kalimpong district has the maximum number of registered homestays in Bengal at 337, way ahead of South 24 Parganas’s 78 and Darjeeling’s 63, which come second and third on the list of Bengal districts with registered homestays.
The state tourism department has allocated Rs 1.64 crore for disbursal of Rs 50,000 to each of the 328 homestays in Kalimpong district. Nine homestays in the district didn’t receive the benefit because of some technical reasons.