Tourist no-entry to Darjeeling till July 31: GTA
The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) on Wednesday announced its decision to ban the entry of tourists in the hills till July 31.
The GTA had earlier decided to open the hills — closed to tourists from the third week of March — to visitors from July 1 following feedback of enquires from potential tourists wanting a “getaway”.
However, their announcement backfired as the backlash of residents scared of the Covid-19 threat was huge.
Even on Wednesday, 21 new cases were reported in Darjeeling district.
On Wednesday, Anit Thapa, the chairman of the board of administration of the GTA, said that he was taking a “bold decision” as “an administrator”.
In his written statement, Thapa said: “I would like to take a decision regarding temporarily stopping all tourists coming from outside GTA region to Darjeeling till July 31.”
Thapa also announced “strict surveillance” at Simulbari and Chitray, the entry points to Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, respectively.
Observers said that the Bengal state government’s decision to enforce a lockdown in containment zones till July 31 also provided a breather to the GTA.
“The state’s announcement gave a window of opportunity to the GTA to reverse their decision (of opening the hills to visitors from July 1),” said an observer.
Tourism is one of the mainstays for the hill economy. On an average, around 4.5 lakh travellers from India and abroad visit the hills annually.
However, the general perception among residents in the hills in the wake of the raging worldwide pandemic is that health was more important right now than tourism.
Moments after the GTA announced its decision to defer the entry of tourists till July 31, homestay and hotel owners received frantic calls from people.
A homestay owner said: “We are getting enquires from guests, and we tell them we are not yet ready to open our establishment, they send us newspaper clippings and news links saying that the hills would open from July 1. So we’re having to explain the latest developments to them in detail.”
The homestay owners’ association has decided not to open their places as of now.
Many homestay and hotel owners said that “some tourists” had been coming but residents had not been welcoming in view of the Covid-19 threat.
“There is fear of the coronavirus everywhere, we can’t overlook the real concerns of people around us,” said a hotel owner in Darjeeling. He added that this year he had good bookings from April to June. “I had bookings for 1,500 people. But who could have anticipated the coronavirus pandemic?” he asked.
Many hotels owners are resigned to the fact that their business will not pick up “unless a vaccine or medicine” for Covid-19 becomes easily accessible to the public.