Of Tourism & COVID-19: What will be the future of Sikkim?
FEATURE | GANGTOK | AUG 3, 2020:
By Nitesh R Pradhan
Sikkim is one of the most picturesque Himalayan states of India with its economy dependent on tourism.
With a phase-wise reopening of the state, many businesses today reopened, however, tourism-related business establishments remain closed.
TNT-The Northeast Today interacted with some of the people who are directly or indirectly involved in the Tourism business and here is what they are saying:-
** Jigmi Dorjee, the owner of a travel agency in Gangtok said that this year has been the worst year for his family. With no work and depleted savings, they are "scraping" through the lockdown.
"We have a lot of loans and education of our children in a good private school is also a priority, but looking at the condition we have to compromise with our lifestyle," he says.
Like him, many are going through a difficult phase. House owners who have given their properties to hotels and resorts have also not received any rent for the past few months.
** PB Rai, property owner of a house in Namchi says, "We have leased out our property for many years. We can understand that there is no business but how long can we go on like this?" he questioned.
This question is giving many stakeholders a reason to switch to some other businesses.
** For a young entrepreneur, Leela Sharma, the hospitality industry was her first dream. "I wanted to open a resort. I had rented a property in East Sikkim but due to the ongoing pandemic I had to switch my plans and the lakh of rupees that I had paid as an advance will not be returned," she rued.
She is not the only one going through losses; small eatery joints, that are dependent on daily income, remained one of the worst-hit businesses.
** Priyanka Tamang, who runs a restaurant in Gangtok, said, "If tourists are not there then how will we survive, we have to think about ways to open our state for business, as usual, keeping in mind the protocols one has to follow in the current situation," she said adding that most of her staff are in worse condition than her with many of them returning back to their villages.
Others directly employed by the tourism industry like tourist guides and drivers are uncertain about the future.
** Tenzing Sherpa, who hails from West Sikkim, is a tourist guide and an avid trekker; his love for mountains made him join this profession. However, he is now seriously thinking of changing his profession.
"How long can we pray for this to stop. We have to think of other ways to make a living. We are dependent on one tourist season for family's financial care for the entire year," Tenzing said.
As the government starts to unlock Sikkim, the depleting fortunes of the tourism industry due to the ongoing pandemic remains a concern as stakeholders brainstorm on how to bring back tourists to the Himalayan state.