Bhutan border closure impacts Dooars tourism negatively
Published on : Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Bhutan’s refusal to open its doors to tourists is adversely impacting tourism in eastern Dooars.
While Jaldapara forest is still drawing some tourists, resorts and tour operators in Buxa and Chilapata that were major draws in summer prior to the Covid-19 pandemic have had hardly any business as tourists don’t seem interested visiting in these forests in the absence of Bhutan that was an integral part of the tour itinerary.
In 2019, the eastern Dooars attracted around 1.5 lakh tourists between April and June. All of them had travelled to the Himalayan kingdom either before or after the Dooars’ visit. At an average spend of Rs 3,000 a day for two days in the Dooars, the cumulative tourist spend in these three months works out to around Rs 70 crore.
But with Bhutan keeping its borders shut to tourists, those who did the circuit have stopped coming. But business has picked up in the western Dooars with tourists visiting Gorumara and Chapramari along with Darjeeling and Sikkim.
As Bhutan continues to keep its doors shut, tourists taking the roads to the tiny nation nestled in the laps of the mighty Himalayas, it has come as a major blow to the Dooars at a time when the region had started making its presence felt in the global tourism map.
“After Bhutan closed its doors for foreigners in March 2020, Dooars suffered terribly, especially the eastern part which falls under Alipurduar district. Business in Jaigaon, which used to be the second highest revenue earner in north Bengal after Siliguri, has stopped since then. Western Dooars made a comeback and has done fantastic this year. But eastern Dooars continues to suffer,” said Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network.
“After Covid norms were eased, Lataguri and Murti did good business. All the 120 resorts and lodges around these two tourist spots are booked till June 15. But then the forest shuts down for three months. We have bookings from different colleges. Overall, the business this year is more than satisfactory,” said Dibyendu Deb, secretary of Lataguri Resort Owners’ Association.
Buxa and Chilapata are going through one of the worst patches in recent memory with almost no tourist for the third season in a row. Resorts around Jaldapara National Park are doing some business. But the numbers are nowhere compared to that of 2019.
Representatives of tour operators have appealed to MP and Union junior minorities affairs minister John Barla as well as the ministry of external affairs to take up border control issues with the Bhutan government. On Thursday, Barla met the Bhutan ambassador and urged the country to open the gates by Durga Puja.