Burgeoning issues of Sikkim’s ever-expanding tourism industry

Burgeoning issues of Sikkim’s ever-expanding tourism industry

If tourism seems too tedious and repeated a subject to read about, there is nothing else to do but accept that it’s one of the trademarks of our state. It earns many accolades, the most popular one being its organic tag. Yet, there are certain nuances one must navigate through to understand tourism in Sikkim as a whole and mind you, it isn’t always as pretty as it seems. 

One of Sikkim’s major problems is unemployment, specifically local employees who do not get jobs due to the major outsourcing done by mostly private companies. In tourism, which is host to a range of private companies that require manpower, the problem persists. 

The Tourism and Civil Aviation Department (TCAD) in a notification dated 13/12/2019 has directed that “as per guidelines for Registration as an approved Travel Agent/Tour Operator point no. V are to be issued only to the registered travel/tour operator.” This meaning that travel agents or operators who have not been registered with the TCAD cannot get access to the Protected Area Permit.

According to the notification, it is “not being followed presently which has hampered the quality and standard of service and leading to various problems of overcharging, touting, fraud bookings, cheating cases and mishaps.” 

It is informed that this is done in order to streamline the tourist traffic and ensure their safety and to render quality service. In the guidelines for registration, it is mentioned that there should be 100% local employment as per qualification and experience. In the case of non-availability of local employees, the TCAD must be approached for the list of youths who have undergone skill training programmes for the same. 

The problem cannot be dismissed as just “non-locals encroaching on business”, because the root cause of it lies within the locals themselves. People who wouldn’t want to work in the hotel service in Sikkim do the same job in metropolitan cities. Migration is a big issue in the community since it necessitates that the jobs in private sectors be given to non-locals who are not only eligible and qualified but actually want to work in the state. 

There cannot be an industry that thrives with workers who do not put in the maximum effort or remain lazy during work hours. In the tourism industry, one needs to obtain a certain skill set and also learn on the job before becoming an expert. Somehow, people fall short. 

Coming back to the issue of those who aren’t registered with TCAD but have somehow found loopholes to travel to places where a PAP is needed, it is clear that checking and screening need to become more stringent. 

Another problem that plagues Sikkim’s tourism industry is the delay in completion of projects, becoming an eyesore after months of standing at the allocated spot and finding no fulfilment. 

For example, if we take into account the ambitious Bhaleydhunga Skywalk project, which is set to be completed and running by October 2020, there is much that the public doesn’t know. 

The memorandum for the project was submitted to the Government of India (GoI)’s Thirteenth Finance Commission in September 2008 for the objective of boosting and promoting tourism in the state, since it would be the highest skywalk in the world, adding another feather to Sikkim’s crown. The funds, INR 200 crore was requested to the Commission, which was released for use in March 2015. But, according to the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the core project did not commence until August 2018.

Sikkim’s tardiness does not look good for its image. There is a delay for seemingly everything – construction work, building roads, implementing certain important laws etc. The general public is excited at the beginning of every promised action but that begins to wane slowly as half-built structures in their hometowns become places of illegal activity or fall into serious disrepair. Not to mention how terrible they look against the backdrop of lush trees. 

The Audit Report states that after the original sanction and proposal of 200 cr., the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department submitted a proposal for an additional 500 cr., which was seen by the Commission as “an indication that the original proposal was not comprehensive/well thought out”. To a layman, these words may not matter much but to those who are actively involved in the business of the state, it is almost embarrassing to have to read it out, knowing that those whom the public holds in extremely high regard could not produce a good enough proposal. 

Further, the grant that was allocated for the Bhaleydhunga Project was diverted to other projects, leading the Audit report to mention that expenditure for other works should be provided from the state’s own budget. 

It is not that the Department isn’t doing its job, or the State Government for that matter. In a meeting with Dr Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), in June 2019, the Chief Minister spoke at length about a few tourism projects that needed to be taken up on priority, one of which was the Bhaleydhunga Project. 

Seeing as the project might be completed within this year, the push from the government has clearly worked. 

Yet, Sikkim’s famed tourism industry hasn’t streamlined much of their services or rather, sectors. Drivers overcharge tourists or behave rudely with them, which causes the tourists to believe that Sikkim is good for only a one time visit. It proves detrimental to the travel agents/operators or stakeholders in the industry when tourists don’t want to return and the fundamental objective of a business is recalling and revisiting/repurchasing. The drivers also go beyond the required speed limits and sometimes, refuse to accommodate tourists and locals alike. 

Tourist waste is yet another underrated problem that could potentially harm not only tourism as a whole but the locals as well. Provisions for proper waste management facilities need to be made because it is no secret how quickly hotels pile up with trash after a good tourist season. Combine that with the everyday waste that is produced by households and they have in their hands a stinking mess. 

Locals must help locals – instead of subletting their companies or businesses to non-locals, maybe they can promote sustainability by providing jobs to locals in the grassroots sector. Listening to the needs of the locals and tourists has to be a priority for all stakeholders in this industry, since having a unilateral mindset, where only earning profits is going to harm the state’s ecosystem. 

In any case, one of the better parts of Sikkim’s tourism industry is that it has found the best way to market itself, but it seems that only having the tag of Organic Sikkim isn’t enough – there must be a clear solution and clearer laws with regard to what makes for a sustainable state.