Darjeeling, March 18: The tourism industry in the hills is apprehensive about the possibility of elections affecting the flow of tourists during the peak season.
The hills have two major tourist seasons. The first rush of visitors is in April and May, the second around October and November.
With the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for May 10 and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council poll around October-November, those involved in tourism fear the number of tourists may dip.
Last year, more than 4.25 lakh domestic tourists came to the hills. There were 40,000 foreigners as well. Festivities, including a carnival, had given a much needed boost to business in the region. But plans to capitalise on last year’s success have run into rough weather.
Vijay Khanna, the secretary of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association, said if there is violence in the run-up to the polls, the number of tourists could drop by 50 per cent.
“There is no doubt that domestic tourists are the main visitors here and it is obvious that most of them will avoid travelling during the polls. The hill council election is even more important for the region. This time, it will be fiercely contested,” said Khanna.
“Even if the hill council election takes place in November, political activities are expected to pick up from September end. Even a few incidents of violence around that time will ruin tourism for the rest of the year,” said Khanna.
But tourists will have to plan their itinerary with more than two elections in mind. Apart from the Lok Sabha and hill council elections, the hills will have civic polls in June or July. “Civic elections are known to be peaceful here and our first tourist season will be over by then,” Khanna said.
With vehicles being requisitioned for election work, tour operators have appealed to the government to make special arrangements for tourists.
“This is the time when fares are hiked by local operators. The government should keep an eye on it and ensure that there are enough vehicles to ferry passengers,” said Saom Namchu, the joint secretary of Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents.
However, the prospects for the season ahead still look good. “Railway confirmations and advance bookings suggest that the tourists are queuing up,” said a tour operator.