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Elections pull back tourists
- Many vacant rooms this year too: Hoteliers

Siliguri, March 27: Tourism industry will suffer a reverse in north Bengal this year also as the season synchronises with the general elections. The hills had seen a drop in the number of visitors in 2008 because of a spurt in violence over Gorkhaland issue.

With the tourism season set to start in April, hotel and resort owners say the number of bookings this time was less than the average. “As the date of polls clashes with the first tourism season of the year, many people are refraining from visiting the region,” said Gautam Goswami of the Siliguri-based KBS Tours and Travels.

North Bengal and Sikkim will go to polls on April 30. “Political campaigning in the region has already begun and there is a decline in the bookings at hotels and resorts. But there are still enquiries by those who want to make a beeline for the region,” said Samrat Sanyal, the secretary of the Eastern Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators Association.

Last year, tourism in Darjeeling hills had suffered a setback as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha had intensified its agitation for a separate state. Consequently, the tourists altered their itineraries and chose the Dooars and Sikkim as the most-preferred destinations.

“The flow of domestic tourists to Darjeeling has come down by 20 per cent this season because of the Lok Sabha elections. The recent terror strike in Mumbai has also hit the overall flow of tourists to the hills,” said Suresh Periwal of the Darjeeling-based Clubside Tours and Travel.

The Dooars, which had reaped the benefits of Darjeeling’s loss last year, is also showing a similar trend.

“With the political instability in Darjeeling, the Dooars had witnessed a 30 per cent increase in the number of tourists last year. But the bookings for rooms have declined considerably this year as people are busy with the elections,” said Kamal Bhowmik, the secretary of Lataguri Resort Owners Association.

Tour operators said political strife in the region over Gorkhaland had nothing to do with the dwindling number of visitors this year and hoped that there would be a boom in the tourism sector after the elections were over.

“The situation in the hills as well as the Dooars is quite normal. So, it is not the political turmoil that is keeping tourists away this time. Tourist inflow will definitely go up after the polls,” Goswami said.

“Considering the number of enquiries we are getting, tourists will hopefully start coming after the elections,” Sanyal said.

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