Tour operators are expecting a never before boom of tourist arrivals in West Bengal this Durga Puja season if there is no Covid-19 surge, with bookings and inquiries pouring in from various countries as well as other states within India.Travel Agents Federation of India’s eastern region chairman Anil Punjabi said that there will be a similar movement of travellers from West Bengal for a taste of wanderlust to various countries in Europe and the Far East, apart from domestic destinations.
“This time it will be a boom. If there is no Covid surge, we are expecting big business,” he told PTI. Raj Basu, convenor of the Association for Conservation of Tourism, said that most of the destinations in forests and hills in the state have been booked from early October till after Diwali. With a lot of bookings and enquiries from people from various countries and Indian states, tourist arrivals to Kolkata and other parts of the state will be at an “all-time high” this time, Punjabi said. He said that after the Durga Puja in Kolkata was included in UNESCO’s representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2021, the interest shown in being part of it among foreigners and domestic tourists has increased manifold.
“There is big demand from foreigners to visit Kolkata and other parts of Bengal,” Punjabi said. He said that NRIs accompanied by their foreign friends are expected to come from Europe, the USA, Canada, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Besides, citizens of various countries will come on their own. “After the Durga Puja celebrations, many of them will also be going to the hills to enjoy cooler climes,” Punjabi said. While the large community pujas in Kolkata have always been huge crowd pullers, people are now also making a beeline for visiting the old ‘zamindar bari’ pujas, which are considered heritage and strict followers of rituals.
Even as tourists from various places are showing interest in coming to Kolkata to be part of the five-day long festivities during the Durga Puja in October, a large section of people in the city and other places in West Bengal want to visit quieter places. Punjabi said that a lot of people are showing interest in and booking destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Maldives and Far Eastern countries like Thailand and also Vietnam with which Kolkata now has direct flight connectivity.
“People have already started applying for visas for Europe, UK and Canada as one has to start the process at least two months in advance for these places,” he said. Domestic tourists will also flock to Darjeeling hills and the forests and tea gardens in the Dooars and Terai region of the state and to Sikkim, said Raj Basu. Basu told PTI that it will be a test of how much the travel operators are prepared this time for the huge rush.
During the summer season, there were complaints of high travel costs with taxis charging nearly double the normal rate in the hills. Hiring a car from Bagdogra airport to a destination, which normally costs around Rs 3,500, had reached up to Rs 7,000.Basu said that the main problem during the summer arose from vehicle rental costs, with some operators trying to make the most of the demand. He claimed that the travel operators in the region have written to the governments of West Bengal and Sikkim to evolve mechanisms to regulate the car hiring costs. “We want that by September 15 the state governments announce a policy to ensure a hassle-free, pocket-friendly and enjoyable stay for the tourists,” he said. Basu said that people are showing more interest in travelling to rural and off-beat destinations than in the main towns