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Foreigners cancel trips, domestic plans stay

Siliguri, Sept. 20: The tremor has taken its toll on the tourism sector with a good number of foreigners cancelling their trips to Sikkim.

The tour operators hope that domestic tourists will stick to their travel plans for the festive season and are keeping their fingers crossed.

The cancellation of bookings has come as a double whammy for the tour operators as many hotels in Sikkim have been damaged in the quake.

“It would take time for the situation to turn normal in Sikkim. Cracks and crevices have appeared in hotels, which need repairs. Thousands of tourists flock to our state during Durga Puja and Diwali. But a large number of foreigners cancelled their bookings after the tremor,” said Lukendra Rasaily, the secretary of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim.

“There have been no cancellations by domestic tourists yet; so, we are banking on them now.”

Rasaily said 50-odd tourists, including two Norwegian women, were left stranded at Lachung in North Sikkim after the earthquake. “We have no information about a group who had gone for a trek to Dzongri. Tourists in Lachung are safe and in good health.”

The quake has come as a major jolt to the tourism sector which had just started recovering in north Bengal and Sikkim after years of tumult in the Darjeeling hills.

“The tourism industry was affected by strikes and road blockades in the hills in the past three-four years. After the signing of the GTA agreement, things had started to look up and we had expected a brisk business during the Puja holidays. There were indications that thousands would pour in with reservations full on trains and buses and almost no rooms lying vacant in destinations like Gangtok, Darjeeling and Lataguri,” said a Siliguri-based tour operator.

“But the tourists are apprehensive after the natural disaster that claimed many lives and maimed many people and caused immense damage to properties. We don’t know what is there in store for us.”

The hoteliers now hope the domestic tourists would save their day.

“We are flooded with inquiries from domestic visitors. Fortunately, there have been no cancellations by them so far,” Samrat Sanyal, the president of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, told The Telegraph over the phone from Ahmedabad.

The association is doing its bit to keep people posted of the situation after the quake.

“We have a two-fold task now. First, we will collect updates on roads and other developments and post them on the Internet. Second, our members will visit destinations like Lava, Kalimpong and Darjeeling and assess the damage caused by the earthquake,” said Raj Basu, an adviser to the association.

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