Sikkim govt bars entry of foreigners deals a blow for the tourism industry

Sikkim, Dec 3: A decision taken by the Sikkim state government to stop issuing permits to foreign nationals has come as a fresh jolt for the tourism industry of the entire region.

The state home department of Sikkim came up with a notification stating that from 1 to 15 December, the ILP (Inner Line Permit), RAP (Restricted Area Permit) and PAP (Protected Area Permit) would not be issued to any foreign national.

As the state Sikkim sits on the India-China border, foreigners travelling to the state had to carry such permits, depending on their itinerary.

Since last year, the tourism sector in north Bengal and the neighbouring state of Sikkim had taken a beating amid the Coronavirus pandemic, with thousands associated with the industry rendered jobless.

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The fresh notification by the Sikkim government had come as a fresh jolt, they said.

Things had just started improving from September and onwards this year as restrictions were relaxed and people were allowed to travel to other states and countries. The inflow of tourists increased from October and we were expecting a good winter season, considering the trend of bookings. However, this sudden decision has left us concerned as several Bangladeshi tourists had booked trips to the region,” said Samrat Sanyal, general secretary, Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network.

A senior hotelier in Siliguri who runs hotels in Sikkim said that till 2018, Bangladeshi residents were not allowed in Sikkim. But after that restriction was withdrawn, thousands of residents from the neighbouring country enthusiastically started to visit the Himalayan state.

(After this notification by the Sikkim government), Bangladeshi residents can still visit Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the Dooars (which are in Bengal) but we have seen that foreign tourists always prefer to cover an entire circuit, and this Himalayan circuit includes Sikkim. The recent decision of the Sikkim government has made several Bangladeshi tourists cancel their trips. At a time we were thinking of recovering from the losses, this (notification) has come as a fresh jolt for us,” the hotelier added.

According to the Sikkim tourism department, in 2019, just a year before restrictions were imposed because of Covid-19, 1,33,388 foreigners had visited the state. In 2018, the number of foreign tourists in Sikkim was 71,172.

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Out of these 1.33 lakh foreign tourists, as many as 60,542 were from Bangladesh and 56,781 were from Nepal. Last year, and even during the first six-seven months of this year, people could not travel because of the pandemic. But in the winter this year, we were expecting a steady inflow of tourists, especially from Bangladesh,” said a travel house owner in Sikkim.

Those associated with the tourism sector also said the Centre should intervene in this matter because only a couple of days back, coinciding with the day the Sikkim government issued this notification, India had removed Bangladesh from the list of “countries at risk”.