No footloose for tourists in Bengal as locals show them the door

Hotels open under Unlock 1, but local residents and associations in tourist hotspots like Darjeeling, Digha, and Mandarmani ask tourists to leave amid rising cases of COVID-19 in state

Digha, a popular seaside resort town in Bengal witnesses massive inflow of tourists during the summer months. Photo: iStock

The travel and tourism industry’s attempt to revive after being in limbo for over 70 days is facing local challenges with residents of popular tourist destinations resisting visit of outsiders, fearing the spread of coronavirus.

Mass movements have been built up against hotels opening their doors for guests in the state’s two most popular tourist destinations, Darjeeling hill areas and Digha, forcing a few tourists to return, abandoning their tour plan.

Debasish Roy Chowdhury, a resident of Jodhpur Park in Kolkata, said, six of them went to Darjeeling on Thursday (June 11) for a short trip, but they were forced by a group of 10-15 youths who stormed the hotel on Friday (June 12), to leave the hill station.

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Tourists encountered similar incidents of local wrath in the seaside venue of Digha where women groups are up in arms against the visit of outsiders.

An eight-member group from Kolkata’s Behala area said they had to curtail their trip to Digha after locals objected to their stay there on Saturday (June 13).

Members of the Digha Mahila Samiti have been holding protests since Friday against hotels and lodges entertaining guests. They allegedly even forced some tourists to vacate their hotel rooms.

Similar protests by locals were also witnessed in Mandarmani, another seaside tourist spot.

Attempts by authorities to assuage local sentiments did not succeed as the fear is intensifying with the spike in new cases. Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts have 150 active cases as on July 15.  In East Midnapore, the district in which Digha is situated, the number of positive cases has gone up to 115.  The number of active cases in the two hill districts on June 1, the day the unlocking process started, was 17 and 0 respectively. In East Midnapore, the number was 60.

“Hotels are open, but there is no tourist,” said Sanjay Pradhan, the president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Kalimpong.  He said an influential youth organisation on Sunday urged hotels and lodge authorities in the district not to entertain guests.

Earlier 16 different organisations, including the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce, had decided to pull shutters down again in the municipality areas of the city starting from Monday (June 15) in view of the growing COVID-19 cases in the hills.

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The decision was later revoked, following requests from the administration, but fear of the local residents could not be allayed.

“The local community, the ‘samaj’ as they call it, plays a very important role in the Darjeeling hills. So, they should have been consulted before starting the unlocking process,” said Samrat Sanyal, the general secretary of the Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism network.

The tourism industry in the hills alone incurred a daily loss of ₹19 crore during the lockdown period, according to Sanyal. The loss would further accumulate if the authorities fail to dispel the fear of the residents.

Tourism minister Goutam Deb said efforts by district administrations were on to quell the unrest.

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