SILIGURI: When fully operational, the just inaugurated airport Pakyong in the tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim could prove a boon for tourism business in the entire eastern Himalayan region, including both Darjeeling and Sikkim.
Pakyong, located 130 km from Bagdogra airport in Northern West Bengal, will be a new and additional gateway for both domestic and foreign tourists.
“Air routes are availed more by the foreign visitors, who contribute more to the tourism business volume by way of higher spending compared to domestic tourists. Hence, an increase in the number of foreign tourists directly pushes up business volume,” said S Sanyal, a veteran tourism consultant.
As per Ministry of Tourism statistics, India received 101.8 lakh foreign tourists during 2017, a 15% growth over 2016. Around 5% of them visit Darjeeling in West Bengal while adjoining Sikkim receives near 50 thousand. “Interestingly, almost every foreign visitor wants to visit both the places. In case of any problem in that, they prefer avoiding entire region,” said Sanyal.
“Here, the capacity of already overloaded Bagdogra airport remains a major limiting factor. With Pakyong operating in full swing, everyone will have a second option in hand,” said R Basu, tourism advisor to Sikkim.
Moreover, Sikkim is highly landslide prone. Any disruption in its only lifeline NH10 cuts off entire state from outer world. Eventually, with a tight itinerary, many foreign tourists prefer avoiding the state and risk of getting stuck. “Pakyong is an answer for them too,” said Sandipan Ghosh, Secretary Eastern Himalayan Tour and Travel Operators Association.
“As a whole, we expect significant increase in foreign tourists here. Around 10% of Sikkim’s 8000 bed capacity and 7000 of Darjeeling are of premium class. But existing average annual occupancy rate is between 50-60%. So, the region can well accommodate this additional arrival even without any major fresh capacity augmentation,” he added.
However, “Final outcome will depend on number and routes served by Pakyong. Not only Kolkata, this region receives high number of visitors from Chennai, Hyderabad or Mumbai too. Hence, connecting these places is important to churn out best possible gain out of the airport,” said Ghosh.