The impact of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and lockdown for over nine weeks across the country has dealt a severe blow to Bengal’s tourism sector. There have been no bookings for the Durga Puja this year, when over 40 per cent bookings are usually done by now.

Even as the state and the rest of the country attempt to get back to a normal life outside the containment zones, things don’t look bright for tourism. From June 8, the state government will resume bookings in some of its lodges, hoping that more people will be encouraged to travel in the coming days despite the threat of the pandemic.

Bookings for government lodges at Diamond Harbour, Mython, Bishnupur, Rangabitan and Tilabari in the Dooars will be opened from June 8. These will be opened for people after taking all the necessary precautions of sanitising, using masks and gloves, regular cleaning and maintaining social distancing. More tourist lodges will be opened in the coming days, according to a senior official of the state tourism department. The government hopes that as people learn to live with COVID-19 and take necessary precautions, there will be some earnings in the tourism sector too, as thousands of small hotels and lodges – involving the livelihood of lakhs of people – are dependent on this.

In West Bengal, Darjeeling and Dooars are the favourite travel destinations during Durga Puja. However, this time not only have the summer vacation gone by without any earnings, the coming Puja season may be severely hit too, fear both government and private players in the sector.

Many travellers who had made early bookings for Durga Puja, now want to cancel them. Private hotel owners have been urging them to postpone the travel dates and offering massive discounts to attract them, but the picture continues to be bleak.

According to Raj Basu, who heads the Himalayan Hospitality & Tourism Development Network, the average earnings per day in the region is usually Rs 7.5 crore everyday during the festive season. Not only would that be severely affected, but there have been almost zero booking by now where the figure is usually 40 per cent by now. Biswajit Saha, who heads the Jaldapara Lodge Owners’ Association said that they are urging people to extend their bookings up to a year.

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