In a leg-up for the COVID-battered tourism industry in West Bengal, bookings for Durga Puja Festive Season Tour operators said the jump has exceeded expectations.
According to industry sources, booking during travel Durga Puja Fears of a possible third wave of the pandemic are in full swing.
Anil Punjabi, president of the Eastern Region, Travel Agents Federation of India, said, “Many people are traveling with family get-togethers to foreign places, missing out on meeting for a long time due to restrictions.”
“This time around, the response and bookings have exceeded our expectations. We are getting very good response. If you compare this with the pre-COVID times, for example, 2019, the revival is around 60 per cent. We are hopeful that it will increase further in the coming days.
Association for Conservation of Tourism convener Raj Basu said that keeping in mind the COVID safety norms, many travelers are more interested in quieter destinations this time.
“People are preferring to stay in one place for at least three to four days instead of stepping out of several tourist attractions,” he said.
Basu said the response from tourists in four districts of north Bengal – Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri – is “extraordinary” for the festive season.
“Most of the rural tourist destinations like Sitong, Taghdah, Tinchule, Pedong have been fully booked for Durga Puja, and bookings have started for Diwali and Christmas holidays as well,” he said.
Basu said that if this trend continues, the tourism industry will be assured of a turnaround it has faced since the announcement of the nationwide lockdown since March 2020.
He said that since village destinations are getting priority among travelers due to health safety reasons, now there is a crisis of homestays and resorts in these places.
Basu said that with the opening up of northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, tourists from far-flung states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka are showing interest in visiting these places.
“It will also benefit the destinations in North Bengal as tourists are interested in Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills and lush green forests and tea gardens of Terai and Dooars,” he said.
Basu said health safety awareness campaigns conducted in villages earlier had asked owners of far-flung homes as well as potential tourists whether they had received double vaccination.
Punjabi said that earlier during the festive season this ratio used to be 65 per cent international destinations and 35 per cent domestic, but at present the domestic segment is attracting around 85 to 90 per cent passengers.
“The decline in international travel is due to limited destinations opening up and fears that they may get stuck there,” he said.
The unexpected response to domestic tourism can also be attributed to many tourists opting to travel to destinations in cars or two-wheelers instead of using public transport, he said.
Punjabi said with a large number of people vaccinated and the travel industry sticking to safety protocols, the tourist movement has started increasing rapidly.
He said that families are also using this opportunity for tourism as a means to get together. “Like one is in Mumbai, and the other is in Kolkata, they are traveling to Dehradun or some other destination,” he said.
This is happening mostly in Kashmir and Ladakh region, where such family get-togethers are being done along with enjoying in exotic places.
Shaukat, a travel agent from Srinagar who recently attended a travel trade fair here, said that though the numbers are yet to reach the pre-COVID era, those coming back to destinations in Kashmir Things are fast returning to normal with tourists.
Another Jammu based tour operator Rakesh Dubey said that Ladakh and Nubra Valley destinations are a big attraction and people are really excited to visit these places.
Punjabi said that with the opening of international destinations and the economy getting better, everyone will benefit more.
“I am hopeful that if there is no further increase in COVID cases, things will get better day by day. Once international travel opens up completely, the industry will be back in business,” he said.
According to businessman Soumik Chakraborty, after 2019, this will be the first time that his family will travel to Darjeeling for a week-long trip.
“It has been an old practice in our family to travel to different places during puja, but we could not do so last year due to the COVID situation. But this year, our entire family has been fully vaccinated, and we will travel in our car,” he said.