Darjeeling: The Nepal earthquake and subsequent tremors which shook north Bengal last week have led to cancellations of hotel bookings in Darjeeling by many visitors who were planning a trip to the hill station during the peak tourist season.

Many hoteliers in Darjeeling are, however, hopeful that the tourist season will start picking up in the next 10-15 days. Pradip Lama, Secretary of Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents (DATA), said, “Reports of the epicentre of the quake being somewhere close to Mirik near Darjeeling have disturbed many travellers. That is one reason behind many cancellations.” The other factor, he said, “is that many groups from Gujarat and Maharastha usually come for the Nepal-Darjeeling-Sikkim tourism circuit. Nepal is out of the question and many are jittery about going to Sikkim because of the 2011 earthquake.”

“As of now, our estimate is that there has been about 30 per cent booking cancellation here. But in the case of big groups, those who book 25-30 rooms in bulk, the cancellation could be as high as 50 per cent in May,” Lama said. Three persons who were killed in the severe earthquake of April 25 were from Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and Naxalbari, all in north Bengal. Tashi Pencho, whose family runs two hotels in Darjeeling, said, “There have been 20-25 per cent cancellations so far. I am writing to all those who have bookings with us saying Darjeeling is absolutely safe and there has been no major damage in the earthquake.”

“My hotels were supposed to be almost full today but they have only 60 per cent occupancy,” said Pencho. Many hotels like ‘Little Tibet’ have decided to provide new dates to those who have cancelled bookings. “We usually accept 20 per cent of the total tariff as advance to confirm bookings. In case of cancellation, we normally do not refund the amount. But this time, we are offering an option to the guests to book rooms for another time this year against the advance they have paid,” Pencho said.

Many hoteliers in Darjeeling are hopeful that the tourist season will start picking up in the next 10-15 days. “We hope that a positive message will go to the tourists that visiting Darjeeling is absolutely safe. We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that the tourist season would peak after May 15,” said Pencho. May is the peak tourist season in the hills. The season usually begins from mid-March and stretches till the first week of June. The next season starts from around the Durga Puja and goes on till December.

The hills usually receive around 4 lakh visitors a year and at any given time, Darjeeling can accommodate around 8,000 tourists, Suresh Periwal, the managing director of Clubside Tours and Travel, one of the oldest travel agents in Darjeeling, said.

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