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Former British minister cancels trip

Siliguri, Nov. 20: Former British Labour minister and an MP from Makerfield, Ian McCartney, and his wife Ann have had to cancel their two-day trip to Darjeeling, courtesy the sudden strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

“The ex-minister (trade and industry) and his wife were expected to arrive in Bagdogra from Calcutta today,” said Raj Basu, who is associated with Help Tourism, one of the leading tour companies of eastern India that had McCartney as client. “However, after the strike was announced last night, it took us hours to cancel the trip and arrange for refund and the process ended only this morning.”

“We could not take the risk of letting the McCartneys visit Darjeeling as there is a chance of an indefinite strike. Today, vehicles carrying tourists were not allowed to go uphill unlike taxis, which carried passengers downhill. The MP and his wife would have had to remain stranded in Siliguri and might have been forced to return to Calcutta from here,” said Basu hours before the strike was lifted.

Besides the McCartneys, Basu had to cancel the trips of at least 60 others, both domestic and foreign tourists, who were scheduled to arrive here in the next three-four days from Calcutta and Delhi.

“We have asked them either to wait for a confirmation from us on their rescheduled itinerary or cancel their trip,” said Basu. But seven of them, all foreigners, already arrived here today.

“We have sent them to the Dooars and asked them to spend two-three days there. We don’t know what to do if the strike is not withdrawn in hills.”

Samrat Sanyal, the general secretary of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, said tour operators are now better known as crisis management operators. “We are busy bringing tourists down from the hills, chalking out new itineraries and keeping regular contacts with customers and tabs on emerging situations,” Sanyal said.

The strike had left some tourists stranded in the hills too. “Those who had planned to stay for a few days in the hills are holed up in hotel rooms. A client of mine called up from Kalimpong today, saying that he can’t go sightseeing because of the sudden strike and asked for a DVD player and some DVDs,” Sanyal said.

Basu said the tourism sector was being hit hard repeatedly. “The strike is affecting business. More than that, it takes time to restore the image of the tourism sector of the region. People whose trips have been cancelled or those who are stranded in the hills will naturally discourage their acquaintances from visiting the region. We fear this multiplying negative effect,” he said.

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