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Grade & rate plan for hill hotels

- Manager arrested in Darjeeling for fleecing

Darjeeling, May 27: A hotel manager’s arrest for overcharging tourists has revealed what the Darjeeling tourism industry tried long to keep under wraps: the fleecing of unsuspecting visitors in the absence of government norms and rates. But that is set to change.

Police had found it difficult to act — because however hassled, tourists never complain — till last week, when they started the crackdown on their own. The manager of Hotel Swati was arrested yesterday for charging Rs 6,000 per day for a room, which the police felt should have ideally been Rs 1,000. The arrest prompted the only hotel owners’ association in town to think of working out a tariff chart after grading the hotels. The association has condemned the fleecing but said there were no fixed rates for hotels.

“We will first meet the tourism secretary of the DGHC and then grade the hotels in town. The tariff will be fixed according to the grades. Copies of the tariff chart will be sent to all police stations across the district,” said Janmukti Hotel Owners’ Association president Sangay Tshering Bhutia after a meeting with the police this afternoon.

“I have heard about the arrest (of the manager) and it is very sad. We definitely condemn such practices (overcharging),” said Bhutia. The meeting also decided that after the grading, all hotels would have to display their tariff chart prominently on the premises.The police drive against fleecing of tourists started with a crackdown on taxi drivers in Siliguri last week when at least 28 cars were fined and four touts arrested for overcharging in the first two days.

“We were regularly checking hotels but in the absence of a complaint, things were difficult for us. Last evening, we checked the hotel register and the money receipts at Hotel Swati on Ladenla Road, and found that they were charging astronomical amounts for this room,” said the inspector in charge of the Darjeeling Sadar police station, L.T. Bhutia.

Given the standard of the hotel and its room, the police felt that the guests should not have been charged more than Rs 1,000 per night for a room. “But the hotel manager was charging Rs 1,500 per individual. The room had four persons. This meant that the double bedroom was coming for Rs 6,000.” said Bhutia. The tariff included three meals a day.

A tour operator said in a double bed room meant for two persons, an extra person or two could be accommodated for extra payment. “At the most, the extra payment is Rs 500 for each extra person,” said the operator. “Only in star hotels, charges start from Rs 6,000 for a room per day.”

Arrested manager Sunil Adhikari, 42, has been booked for extortion under Section 41/384 of the IPC.

The secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, Pradip Lama, admitted there were many such instances of fleecing.

“Mainly those tourists who visit Darjeeling without verifying their bookings face problem. Yesterday, I heard that a group from Bhopal was turned away by a hotel, which said the bookings had not been confirmed. The tourists claimed they had made the bookings,” said Lama.

Even police admit that many tourists taking packaged tours are unaware of the type of hotel they are being put up in and its tariff.

If anyone is planning to visit Darjeeling hoping to get an accommodation in any of the 280-odd hotels without prior booking, one is only inviting trauma, tour operators warned.

“I don’t want to name the hotels but many of those who were charging Rs 700 for a double room earlier are now looking at renting it out for Rs 3,000. Even though we deal with them frequently, they are giving us the room for not less than Rs 1,500-2000,” said Lama.

Darjeeling usually receives around 3.5 lakh domestic tourists, apart from around 40,000 foreigners annually. Those involved in the industry believe that the figure could touch the 4.5 lakh mark this years as far as domestic footfall is concerned.