Gangtok: Sikkim is planning to open its doors to tourists from October. The state wants to project itself as a ‘safe destination’ to lure visitors back again. Tourism employs about 15 % of the state’s population, and is severely hit because of the lockdown.
The state tourism department on Friday held a meeting with all the stakeholders to discuss a strategy for reopening the sector on Friday. They came up with a draft proposal termed ‘Reopening of State Tourism’.
“The State cannot afford to abrogate its tourism industry for long. The resumption of tourism is likely to increase the probability of transmission of the disease. Still, it becomes imperative for us to ensure that the highest standards of health safety measures are put in place before we open the doors for tourism”, reads the draft.
There be an effort to establish an efficient Tourism Health Safety and Treatment system in the state. “It will automatically translate into a major pull factor for the revival of future tourism in Sikkim. It may be prudent to take a restrictive approach, with most supply determined rather than market-driven, for the phase-wise reopening of tourism in the State”, mentions the draft. The draft proposal states:
What the tourists coming to Sikkim need to abide?
1. The first phase of reopening will be considered only for domestic tourists.
2. All tourists travel in Sikkim to be permitted only for pre-booked/package tours (arrival to departure -Sikkim).
3. Only those tourists with valid COVID-19 negative certificates, (ICMR recognised hospital/labs) conducted within three days before their arrival (to be produced at the Check post) shall be allowed to continue their tour to Sikkim.
4. Only two entry points Rangpo and Melli will be permitted for tourist entries in the 1st phase. (to be decided by the government).
5. All tourists, to have registered their requisite details in the Web portal of the Department before arriving at the entry checkposts. (Their concerned travel agent/operator may help them with the registration).
6. The State government, based on the prevailing circumstances, will decide on the number of accommodation units to be authorised or permitted for operations in different phases.
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What the Hotels and Home Stays need to comply with?
1. Capacity: The first phase reopening to be provisioned for a maximum capacity of 2500 rooms or 5000 guests per day in the whole of the State, which is left to be decided by the government.
2. Containment Zones: No hotels/ homestays in the notified containment zones will be permitted to operate.
3. Occupancy: The permitted accommodation units shall not take more than 50% occupancy per day.
4. Room allocation: The room allocation to the guest shall be made in line with the social distancing norms, preferably one-room apart (alternative rooms).
5. Emergency isolation facility: The permitted accommodation units to designate and prepare at least one room for emergency isolation for emergency management of any suspected cases.
6. Room Reservation: The guest will have the option of booking accommodation in the state either by themselves or through OTAs or local travel agents. However, all transport and ground handling services are to be booked through permitted authorized local travel agents only.
7. Compliance: The accommodation units – noncompliant to the Operational Recommendation issued by the MOT and Post COVID Protocols for the Hospitality industry issued by the Government of Sikkim, as well as the standard protocols issued by the Health Department shall not be permitted for operations in the 1st phase.
What the Travel Agents and Tour Operators need to follow?
1. All tourist transport and ground handling services including pick up and drop will be allowed only through authorized local travel agents or tour operators. No travel agency or tour operator without the authorization of the State Tourism Department will be permitted to operate in the first phase.
2. Any arrival transfer of tourists (entry to Sikkim) without the authorized travel agent’s or tour operator’s booking slip or service voucher will not be permitted.
3. The authorized travel agents or tour operators to provide the certified copy of their guest’s details, tour itinerary (arrival to departure), accommodation details, the vehicle and driver details to the nearest Tourism Information Centre or Department or at the entry points at least 24 hours before the arrival of the guests. (Provision of online uploading will also be enabled as soon as possible).
4. OTAs outside Sikkim will not be allowed to operate independent tours in Sikkim during the first phase. All tours by OTAs outside Sikkim to be routed through authorized local travel agents or tour operators of Sikkim.
5. The travel agents or tour operators shall be permitted to engage only tourist vehicles (luxury vehicles) for all tourist transports and sightseeing during the first phase for better tracking and monitoring of the visiting tourist.
6. Travel Agents or Tour Operators to use the same vehicle(s) for the whole tour (arrival to departure). They should avoid the change of vehicles in between the tours unless in case of breakdown or exigencies.
7. The travel agents or tour operators processing authorization shall, in no case, engage proxy operators to conduct their tours.
8. All authorized operators to strictly adhere to Operational Recommendations for Tourism Service Providers (MOT)and SOP to be issued by the Tourism Department.
What does the Tourism Department need to enable?
1. Applications expressing interest for the resumption of business will be invited by the department from Hotels, Homestays, Travel Agents, and other tourism service providers.
2. The applicants will require to submit an undertaking (in prescribed format) along with their application, declaring their fulfillment and preparedness on all provisions under the operational guidelines and that they shall be solely held liable in the event of any violation of the guidelines or protocols.
3. The applications of only those hotels or travel agents registered with DOT and CAv and compliant to the Operational Recommendations issued by MOT will be admissible for the first phase operations.
4. The department will ensure adequate staff and infrastructure at the entry points of Rangpo and Melli for carrying out the entry formalities.
5. Valid COVID negative certificate – not more than three-days old, registration details of the Web Portal – Traveller ID, proof of pre-booking slips – service vouchers or tour itinerary issued by the authorized operators and vehicle details, will be checked at entry points.
6. There will be a dedicated Central Monitoring or Records Team at the Head Office which will monitor and maintain the records daily of tourist arrivals or departures along with movement details. All the entry and exit points and Tourist Information Centre will report to the Central Monitoring Team daily.
How the Health Department can aid?
1. In case of detection or suspicion of any COVID-19 positive case or symptom of tourists at the entry point, a provision of isolation facility at Rangpo itself. Further course of action – treatment and management of the infected case – Health Department Officials. All costs that may be involved in the process (Isolation facility and treatment) will be borne by the tourist.
2. If a tourist is without a COVID-19 negative certificate and whether they must be permitted, then the minimum duration of their stay or quarantine needs to be decided in consultation with the Health Department.
3. In case of detection of any COVID-19 positive case of tourist during his or her stay – isolation, treatment, containment, and quarantine – to have the system of ‘Tourist Health Safety and Treatment protocols’ in place.
4. Possibility of Rapid Antigen Testing facility for all incoming tourists at the entry points of Rangpo and Melli.
5. No odd or even restrictions for tourists’ vehicles (luxury taxis), provided they carry proof of valid or live tour details and itinerary in the vehicle.
6. Tourist taxi driver engaged for tourist transport be tested for COVID-19.