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23 Dec 2016

Queen of Hills sees fall in foreign tourists

Amitava Banerjee, HT, 22 December 2016, Darjeeling: Though domestic tourists are making a beeline for Darjeeling and Sikkim this festive season, foreign tourists have remained elusive. Travel trade pundits have blamed demonetisation for their absence.
Every year around five lakh domestic and 30,000 foreign tourists visit the Darjeeling and Sikkim region. “Around 90% foreign tourists visit this region from November to February. However, post-demonetisation there are hardly any foreign tourists in the region,” said Raj Basu, Association for Conservation and Tourism convener.
Basu blames demonetisation. “Foreign travellers present in India during the initial days of the cash ban had to face a lot of hardship. Many had Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes but could not exchange them easily. In India and specially this region where only 1% of transactions are electronic and the remaining in cash, it was a nightmare for foreigners. They are not used to standing in serpentine queues and wasted their valuable time queuing up. All this sent a very wrong message throughout the world. We are bearing the brunt now,” said Basu.
“Usually this time of the year our pub is packed with foreign tourists. This year, however, presence is very thin,” said Sashi Gongba, owner of Joey’s Pub, a favourite haunt of foreign tourists in Darjeeling.
The picture is quite different in the domestic sector. “We have a huge rush of domestic tourists. Most hotel rooms are booked from November 23 till the second week of January in Darjeeling. Even home stays are doing brisk business,” said Pradeep Lama, Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents secretary.
Christmas and New Year, both falling on the weekend, have added to the rush with tourists from nearby locations including Kolkata preferring the Hills as a getaway.
It is mainly high-end domestic tourists who prefer to visit Darjeeling in winter. “All the rooms of the three hotels of our group in Darjeeling are packed to capacity till the second week of January,” said Mahendra Rai, manager of star category group of hotels.

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