Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, ‘Change is the only constant.’ The adage resonates till date, having stood the test of time. Such is also the belief of Ahana Gurung, Co-owner, PaliGhar Kalimpong, who adds, ‘It is indeed time to bring out the big guns and reinvent.’
What a change 2020 has been! The pandemic has disrupted the global travel industry like no other and has quite literally brought it to its knees. For a country like India where the travel and tourism industry contributed $194 billion to the economy in 2019, a report by Grant Thornton and FICCI states it is now looking at a revenue loss of about $16.7 billion and up to 40 million job cuts in the next one year. However, in the past two months, domestic travel has been the first to resume and will be the fuel that will drive business for most service providers, with outbound leisure travel completely out of the equation. Simultaneously, traveller behaviour is changing. Safety and precautions have become top priority for them and as they lean towards slightly remote destinations to stay away from crowds, the ability to work while away on a vacation or a ‘workcation’ is another important factor in their decision-making process. Currently, PaliGhar’s strengths lie in being a family-run property that has always taken great care to maintain good hygiene standards and has adopted new sanitisation protocols. Additionally, a small room inventory only allows a limited number of guests at a time, while a working internet connection allows guests to work from the farmstay as the rural, yet accessible, setting allows them to disconnect from the rest of the world. Which leads us to observe another key trait in travellers. The pandemic has led people to introspect and reconnect with their old hobbies, and the prolonged isolation has sparked a yearning for the outdoors. Destinations like Kalimpong, known for its panoramic surroundings that is home to a number of hiking trails, offers an experience-based getaway which goes far beyond sightseeing. Being with nature in itself is therapeutic, and as homes cease to be a sanctuary for relaxation for many with the advent of ‘work from home’, what better way to unwind than with a view of the mighty Mount Kanchenjunga. Way-off villages in Kalimpong such as Echhey, Samthar and Lolegaon, to name a few, along with the Neora Valley National Park are some of the hidden treasures of the Himalayan town that have much to explore and to be experienced.
Kalimpong’s history is an asset in itself. Once a key hub for Indo-Tibetan trade, the town was an important part of the Silk Route when goods were carried on mules over the Jelep-La pass and into Kalimpong. The 10th Mile region in the town continues to be a major trade hub with some of the old wooden houses that sold wool still intact.
It is evident from this year’s theme – tourism and rural development for World Tourism Day – that rural tourism is touted as the next big thing. The pandemic has led people to live a greener life and there has been no better time for farmstays to earn the spotlight. The road to recovery is slow but not impossible, with disruption leading to new business models that get the engine roaring once again.