Plea to frame comprehensive policy for homestays in north Bengal
Homestay owners in north Bengal have asked the Mamata Banerjee government to frame a comprehensive policy to ensure standard services at such hospitality facilities which mushroomed in the region in recent years.
The demand was raised at an event hosted by the Association for Conservation & Tourism (ACT), a north Bengal-based organisation, here on Sunday as a part of the World Tourism Day celebrations.
“There should be a proper rural tourism and homestay policy in Bengal and we urge the state government to mull over it. Many of us are first generation rural entrepreneurs who have stepped into tourism and a laid down policy with proper guidelines can help us improve the services,” said Bijay Thapa, a homestay owner from the Dooars and a member of the Jaldapara Offbeat Tourism Association.
North Bengal has close to 3,000 homestays, most of which have come up in the past five-six years. The state tourism department provides financial assistance to them and there is also a provision of getting the properties registered with the department. But so far, the state has not come up with an exhaustive policy on how these accommodations should be run and also on ancillary issues pertaining to local tourism attractions.
At the event organised by the ACT — named as Homestay Congress, the owners also pointed out that around 1,200 such accommodations did not have a no-objection certificate issued by the district land and land reforms departments.
“This is because these accommodations have come up in tea and cinchona plantations and on the fringes of forests. As most residents do not have land rights, the homestays, too, could not get the NOC and are hence deprived of financial assistance and other benefits extended by governments. As land is a state subject, the state government should look into it,” said a homestay owner in Darjeeling district.
Kinkar Roy, a homestay owner from the eastern Dooars and a member of Chilapata Porjoton Samiti, emphasised the need for a common marketing network for all homestays of the region.
“The state tourism department is actively working to promote Bengal among domestic and international tourists. It should evolve a common marketing network through which all homestay owners can showcase their accommodations and attractions of their places. This initiative, we believe, can bring in more tourists to the homestays,” said Roy.
The ACT hosted an event at Siliguri Town station — one of the oldest stations of north Bengal which used to be the terminus of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) toy train for several years — on Monday as part of the WTD celebrations.
“Over the time, the station has lost its glory and is currently in a deplorable condition. We are trying to bring back the lost glory of the station which is a heritage place for us,” said Raj Basu, the convenor of the ACT.
Members of the association urged the citizens to come forward and take the initiative to restore the glory of the station. Exhibitions, paintings and other cultural events were organised at the station on Monday.