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5 Jan 2017

Snow in Darjeeling, Kolkata tourists refuse to chill

Prithvijit Mitra | TNN | Jan 4, 2017,KOLKATA: Snow in Sandakphu and a hailstorm at the Tiger Hill that brought the mercury down several notches have failed to trigger a rush of tourists to Darjeeling. In a breakaway from tradition, the sudden onset of chill at the queen of hills has met with an indifferent response in Kolkata. With the winter vacation coming to a close this week, occupancy across hotels in Darjeeling has dropped to less than 80%. It is set to slide further by January 7 and new bookings have been few despite the late chill in the hills. Tour operators believe the demonetisation effect has come in the way.
Ashima Seal is just back from a trip of Darjeeling and she wishes she had been there now. "I missed the snow and the hailstorm by a whisker. This time, the sharp chill was missing and I really wish I had deferred my trip by a week," said Ashima. A drop in mercury at Darjeeling is usually followed by a flood of tourist enquiries.
"But this season continues to be a poor one. Occupancy was high between December 20 and January 2 which is the peak winter season. Bookings are few till February. We had expected a surge following the snowfall in Sandakphu but that has not happened. Last year was an exceptionally good one with the tourist flow continuing till June with short periods of lull in between. But with the cash crunch yet to ease, even the possibility of snowfall in Darjeeling has not enthused tourists," said Raj Basu, travel expert and an organizer of home stays in Darjeeling and Dooars. He added that occupancy of hotel rooms could drop to less than 50% this month.
The sudden stem of tourist flow to Darjeeling was waiting to happen, felt city operators. Bookings for the popular destinations had started waning soon after demonetisation and it continues, pointed out Anil Punjabi, president of the Travel Agents' Federation of India. "Demonetisation has had a domoralising effect on travellers. Till last month, there wasn't enough cash for easy travel. Even though the situation has improved considerably, people are still wary of the future. Travelling is still being deferred which is why there have been few enquiries and bookings post-November. Till last year, snowfall in Sandakphu would have triggered a fresh interest in Darjeeling. But this time it has drawn a blank, said Punjabi.
Hotels in Darjeeling were preparing .for a prolonged off-season. While the majority of vacationers left on Monday, the rest could leave by January 6, said TP Sarkar, manager of The Retreat Hotel. "Last year, we had full occupancy till February. There had been a surge of tourists from Kolkata after it snowed in Sandakphu. Even though Darjeeling town has not had snowfall for several years now, tourists start flocking if it snows in the nearby areas. This year has been an exception," said Sarkar.
Last-minute travel plans - that have often sustained the late-season flow - have been a casualty of demonetization. "We depend on the late bookings from mid-January. But this time they have been absent. With the cash crunch continuing, people are wary of impromptu travel. Our occupancy has dropped to 50%,"said Kamal Banerjee, manager of Sonar Banga Hotel.

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