Understanding tourism and its scope in Sikkim

Understanding tourism and its scope in Sikkim

Tourism is a global activity. It is a socio-cultural and economic phenomenon, which involves movement of people from one place to another for recreational, medical, business or may be for religious purposes. An individual becomes a tourist when they leave their surroundings and visit another environment.

People are travelling to different places to have a leisure time with their family or friends. It is also the activities carried by a person to enjoy in the places outside their usual environment. People may travel within or outside the country. In today’s world tourism has become a popular activity. People love to travel and experience new things in life so tourism gives them a best opportunity to experience new culture and meet new people. It gives them an opportunity to explore the world and enjoy the beauty. People can learn and experience other cultures as well. People learn many things when they travel out from their residence, every journey teaches them something and in every journey they make some memories.

Tourism also encourages the Government to work for the development and improvement of local infrastructure to attract and handle more influx of tourists. There are many countries that have transformed themselves through the tourism industry and have become global tourist hubs. The movement of tourists spreads geographically and reaches across the globe, becoming for many of the countries and important economic sectors in terms of income generation, foreign exchange and employment creation. Tourism plays an important role for a country's economy because it contributes to the country’s GDP due to the tax levied on income earned from the tourism industry. As the number of tourists increases in a country or a state, the level of income also increases because there will be more consumption of goods and services by tourists.

Tourism itself is a business because it involves transportation, hotels, tours and travel agents etc. It employs thousands of people in this activity. It generates jobs and acts as a great source of income. People can improve their living standards and it also opens up the opportunity for entrepreneurs. It is basically a tool used for development of a country or a state. Tourism can influence the socio-cultural and economical factors as well.

The main motive to encourage tourism by most of the Governments is for economical factors. The tourism industry contributes a lot to improve the economic condition of a people as tourism encourages tourists to spend money, in such a way the income of local people increases and also creates employment opportunities. As we know many people go on holiday vacation to visit cultural heritage and sightseeing purposes, therefore it is important to conserve our heritage sites as heritage tourism plays an important role in tourism development. There are thousands of cultural heritage sites throughout the world which are protected and have become tourist attractions. Cultural heritage tourism is important because it reinforces identity and helps to preserve cultural heritage, as culture being an instrument it establishes harmony and understanding among people and helps to renew tourism.

Historical background of tourism in India

India is a country having the history of civilization spreading more than 500 years. It is diversified by nature thus, has multi- cultural, multi-religious and multi-language. The cultural heritage of India has a glorious past and richest tradition. It was ruled by different races from time to time. When the Aryans occupied India they established several learning centers and religious worship centers. Thereafter ample numbers of people started moving from one place to another for education and religious purposes. However pleasure tourism in India was introduced during the Mughal rule. The earliest travelers were the Chinese Fa-Hein who visited India during 359-424 AD followed by Hiuen-Tsang during 625-645 AD. Later many European travelers visited India in search of knowledge. India has monumental temples, mosques, palaces, wildlife sanctuary etc. It is because of its rich culture and natural wealth that India has attracted travelers from different parts of the world and is still attracting. The importance of tourism was recognized even after the second world. The first step to promote tourism in India was taken before Independence in the year 1945, when a committee was set up by the Government of India. The main objective of the committee was to check the potentiality of developing tourist traffic. In 1948 the year 1948 tourist traffic committee was set up in order to promote tourist traffic in India. Further department of tourism was set up under the ministry of transport in 1958 and the Government of India set up an independent ministry of tourism in may 1986.

Tourism as an economic term emerged in India only after the second five year plan was introduced in the year 1956. In the beginning going on pilgrims or visiting relatives or friends is what was meant by tourism. It was only when India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) was set up in 1966; India was promoted as a tourist destination. Thereafter India  came to be known for holiday destinations. The main motive of ITDC was to give proper consultancy and services to promote tourism in India in order to bring development for acountry. The government of India approved to set up the National policy in 1982 which involves a six point plan for tourism development of Swagat , Suchana, Suvidha, Suraksha, Sahyog and Samrachan, which means Welcome, Information, Facilitation, Safety, Cooperation and Infrastructure Development. The importance of domestic tourism was recognized by policy makers in the year 1990 and also in the Tourism Action plan of 1997.

It was decided that the state Government would look after the domestic tourist and the central Government would take up the matters of international tourists. In 2002, the Government of India introduced a new Tourism Policy, and the main motive was to highlight the contribution made by tourism in national development and its role as a development tool.

Tourism in sikkim: A historical background

When we go back to the history of tourism in Sikkim before its merger with India, tourist inflows to Sikkim were trivial. Even after Sikkim got merged with India, growth was still slow till 1980’s as large areas remained restricted to tourists due to security reasons. However, in the last decade of the century the growth of tourism increased greatly as more areas came under relaxation of permit regime and Sikkim achieved popularity as a tourist destination. Tourism industry in Sikkim experienced a big boost between 2010-17 with arrival of lakh’s of tourists almost equaling and surpassing the state population. Today, tourism is growing rapidly and evolving as an important economic tool of the state.

The development route of tourism began slowly from Gangtok and gradually extended to Rabong, Pelling, Yuksam, Lachung and Lachen. Around 1988, the government decided to allow tourists to visit Tsomgo Lake and attracted thousands of tourists to experience snowfall. Later it was followed by giving permission to enter Nathula pass, Zuluk in the east and Gurudongmar Lake, Yumthang valley and Yumesamdong in the North Sikkim. This was the major step taken by the Government in the history of tourism in Sikkim. With a growing tourism industry, Sikkim also developed an eco tourism pathway leading to strong community participation, as well as nature and cultural conservation. In the year 2002, the South Asian Regional Conference on Ecotourism was organized in Sikkim by the International Ecotourism Society and Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS). This was significant  in introducing the concept of ecotourism and identifying community based tourism in the state. The state government has taken many initiatives to support and promote village tourism and ecotourism by introducing ecotourism policy in 2011 and the Sikkim Registration of home stays Establishment Rules and construction of 736 home stays (Hospitality Division, Department of Tourism, GoS) under the rural tourism program.

Sikkim has seen an unprecedented growth in the arrival of tourists in the last three decades. It recorded 15,000 tourists in 1980 and increased to 14, 24,965 tourists in 2017 which includes domestic and foreign tourists, (statistical cell, department of Tourism and CA GoS) so there has been an extreme growth of tourism sector in Sikkim. There has been growth in domestic tourists at an average annual rate between 10 to 25% from 2005 to 2017. Foreign tourists grew at an average annual rate of 8% from 2005 to 2013. The constant efforts have been made by the department to build the capacity of stakeholders by providing training such as for guides (mountaineering, bird watching, trekking rafting), cooks, adventure tour operators etc. The institute of Hotel management in Rumtek Gangtok and the Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism in Chemchey has contributed to these initiatives. Further Sikkim has done quite well in tourism infrastructural development like development of tourist wayside amenities and unique tourist attractions such as ropeways, skywalks and religious monuments. The adventure tourism sector earlier was limited mainly to trekking, white water rafting and mountaineering and experienced a slow growth. However, today this sector has experienced a rapid growth with the expansion of new adventure activities like mountain biking and paragliding. Permit for three new peaks are given Frey’s Peak, Lama Angden and Brumkhangse was opened for Alpine expedition in 2005. With its rich biodiversity and cultural heritage sites, the state is attracting huge numbers of tourists and simultaneously encouraging local youth to up their profession in the tourism sector.

Current senario of tourism in sikkim

Sikkim is one of the smallest states in India which lies in North-eastern Himalayas with a population of about six lakhs. It was regarded as the first organic state of India in the year 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sikkim is one of the famous places for tourist destinations in India. It is well known for its frozen lake, monasteries and historical places. It has numbers of glaciers among which Zemu Glacier is the largest in North-eastern Himalayas and this glacier is the source for many rivers. One of them is the Teesta River which is very famous because of its Hydro project. In every tourist season hundreds and thousands of people travel to Sikkim to enjoy the scenic beauty of the hills and a pleasant weather condition. Sikkim has numbers of tourist sports and offers adventure experience of rafting, paragliding, trekking etc. The state is popular for its natural beauty with waterfalls and snow capped mountains. There are historical places to visit and it gives a great opportunity to know about Sikkim's wealthy culture and traditions. People travel to Sikkim during summer to escape from hot weather because Sikkim has pleasant weather even during summer. People mainly get attracted because of its peace and cleanliness, it is obvious for them to visit such places and have wonderful experiences. Some even call Sikkim a Heaven on Earth because of its peace and natural beauty. It is really a wonderland for those who want to enjoy the pleasant weather during summer, snowfall during winter and rhododendron bloom in spring. Each region in Sikkim has its own uniqueness and driving forces that attract tourists, if they enjoy the fresh snow in the east, they can enjoy the valley of flowers in the north. North is famous for the valley filled with beautiful flowers and swift flowing rivers. In the month of March and April tourists flock at yumthang valley to enjoy that priceless scenery of beautiful flowers. Gurudongmar Lake is equally breathtaking which is often called as paradise. Likewise they can visit the historical places in the west like Rabdentse at pelling, Pemayangtse Monastery near pelling, and Sanga Choeling Monastery. Lastly in the south Sikkim tourists can enjoy the landscape of beautiful tea gardens, cherry blossoms etc. Apart from the mentioned tourist sports there are end numbers of beautiful and exciting views that one cannot be missed. Sikkim has so much to offer to its visitors, and it is a good place to enjoy natural beauty and have adventure experience. There are a number of sports for hiking, trekking, cycling and it also has mountain bike riding.

According to the available resources there has been an increase in the visitors in the last two decades in Sikkim. Both the foreign and domestic tourists have increased in number. New trends of tourism activities have emerged, people travel not only to enjoy those beautiful scenery of the Himalayas but they also want to enjoy the life pattern of people reciting in towns and villages. Therefore, they prefer to travel to the rural areas where they can witness and enjoy the village life. It is a time where they get an opportunity to be away from the chaos of the cities. When we are talking about tourism it is always associated with some kind of improvement and development in that particular area. There is a number of evidence that tourism has contributed towards the development of a country or a nation, therefore the research area that has been chosen is Pelling, which is one of the most famous attractions for tourists in Sikkim. It is famous for its cultural heritage and rich biodiversity. The rural Pelling has gradually turned into a town with municipalities department, schools, colleges and universities.