As tourists return to Darjeeling post COVID, The Ministry of Tourism has kicked off a three-day workshop to boost the hospitality skills of local homestay owners and promote rural tourism in the hill station.
Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel inaugurated a three-day Incredible India Mega Homestay Development and Training Workshop in Darjeeling on February 22. Organised by the Ministry of Tourism in association with the Eastern Himalayas Travel and Tour Operators’ Association and IIAS School of Management, the workshop aims to hone the hospitality skills of local homestay owners and boost tourism in the region. Available free of cost, it is expected to train around 450 participants in different aspects of hospitality, including soft skills, sales and marketing, and feature interactions with tour operators and travel agents.
“The Eastern Himalayan part of West Bengal is one of the most significant tourist destinations in India. The presence of (the) Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute also signifies the importance of the queen of hills. Over the period a new phenomenon, i.e., homestay has become a popular concept in the hills and thousands of locals have transformed their houses into a homestay option in order to cater to the growing demand from the tourists,” said Patel at the event.
After remaining shut for six months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Darjeeling and neighbouring Kalimpong reopened to tourists in September 2020. The West Bengal government permitted hotels which were not located in containment zones to resume services provided they followed social distancing norms and hygiene protocols. Tourism is a prime source of income and employment in the hill station, with 15 per cent of its population dependent on the sector.
Darjeeling and surrounding hill stations saw a resurgence of business towards the end of 2020 with tourists flocking to the region for a post-lockdown getaway. “The new year started on a good note with most homestays in Darjeeling and its neighbourhood remaining packed with tourists,” Prasant Pradhan, general secretary of the Himalayan Homestay Owner’s Association told the Times of India. “The pandemic had hit the tourism industry in the hills, and homestays suffered the most because they are run by families who are dependent on tourists. Even after restrictions were lifted in August, there were hardly any tourists. We are expecting much better business this year,” he added.
According to the publication, occupancy of homestays and hotels saw a record high in the first week of January since pandemic restrictions were withdrawn in August 2020. Demand for homestays outweighed that for hotels, said the publication, with many tourists opting for private accommodation to maintain social distancing.