Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tourist Season snubbing of ‘locals’ begins

The death toll due to heat wave has already crossed the thousand mark in the country. Temperatures have crossed 45 degrees especially in the now neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. Compared to this, continuous rainfall for the last three months has made Sikkim the perfect destination for tourists. The volume of tourist inflow this season will probably cross last year’s record. The official figures will be known only after the season is over but the fact that 1,200 tourists were stranded due to a landslide on a single night and had to be evacuated from North Sikkim earlier this week gives us some idea about the volume of tourists already arriving in Sikkim.
This is definitely a good sign for the state’s economy as well as for those in the tourism industry. Most of the hotels are booked to capacity, travel agents and tour operators do not have time to breathe and as usual taxi drivers don’t have the time of the inclination to ferry share-cab passengers.
On a recent visit to Lall Bazaar local taxi stand from where local passengers of Tadong, 5th Mile, 6th Mile and Ranipool board taxis, the number of passengers waiting for a ride far outnumbered the number of taxis. In ‘normal’ times, cabs have to wait for passengers to fill. One lady from Ranipool informed that she had been waiting for the last 45 minutes. While we were talking, a taxi entered the stand and the lady was relieved since she knew that the vehicle plied to Ranipool from Lall Bazaar. But to her sruprise, the driver said, “Aunty ma jadina, reserve cha, hotel ma tourist cha, pani parera ekchin yaan rakhnu aako” [I am not going aunty, tourists have reserved my taxi and they are waiting in the hotel. Because of rain I came here to wait for sometime].
Not only passengers, the hoteliers are also facing problems. Because of the rains, taps in Gangtok and its surrounding areas are running with muddy, heavily silted waters. “We have to hear regular complaints from tourists. We are also bringing water from natural sources but that is no different from PHE water,” said a hotel owner in Tibet Road.
However, shopkeepers selling umbrellas are having a good time because of the continuous rainfall. “Tourists are buying more umbrellas than local customers,” says Vijay who has a shop in the heart of MG Marg. Though most of them prefer to buy cheap umbrellas but this time he had to order extra stock as compared to the past seasons. According to him, tourists always arrive during pre-monsoon months but this year pre-monsoon has been like monsoon months of June and July. That is why the demand has gone up.
Not only the umbrella sellers, the season has given some respite [even if for a few days] to Government drivers, private vehicle owners and even the traffic police as jams along the highways have reduced a substantially [unless there is a breakdown]. Most of the taxis are plying outside Gangtok reducing the volume of traffic flow during office hours.
A booming tourist season is welcome but it would be even better received if the effects were positive across the board. During tourist season, local passengers are left helpless as most taxis choose tourists over locals.  Local passengers are the lifeline of taxis in Gangtok. Several associations are there to raise their voice for taxi drivers and owners when needed and all the members are ready to accept the legislations and directions issued by its executive members. The office bearers of such associations could issue guidelines requiring half or even quarter of their members to cater to local passengers turn-wise and allow the rest to serve tourists. This will definitely to do away with the passenger-taxi driver conflict in days to come.
Though the officials in the SNT Department are claiming that around 20 City Runners are plying regularly along the highway, passengers complain that they don't get a single bus even after waiting for more than an hour. The management in the Department should make arrangements for regular buses atleast to the passengers of Jalipool, Ranipool and 6th Mile.
If tourist flow remains consistent throughout the year and there is proper planning and effort from the concerned authorities and stake holders, the tourism industry could definitely help Sikkim to achieve its dream of becoming self-reliant.

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