Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), or Toy Train is seen at the Darjeeling railway station during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Darjeeling on May 12, 2020. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images)

The tourism sector, crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, hopes to see some businesses in the upcoming Durga puja and Diwali seasons with queries from interested travellers coming in, officials of the industry bodies said on Sunday.

In the domestic and short-haul segments, people are showing interest, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) eastern region head Anil Punjabi said.

“There is interest and queries are coming in about destinations and safety measures, but these are yet to be translated into bookings,” he said, adding that people have changed their priorities amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“There will be businesses in the Durga Puja and Diwali seasons with interest growing among people, though it is likely to be much less than what it used to be in the previous years,” Punjabi told PTI.

With people starting to learn to live with the pandemic, at least some of them are likely to start travelling with requisite safety measures, he said.

The TAFI eastern region head said the tour operators are providing people with all kind of information regarding tourists destinations and the safety of the places.    A lot depends on how the COVID-19 situation emerges in the next few days as people would not want any cancellation.

“Bengal is a value-for-money destination and is safe also,” he said, expressing hope that domestic tourists would travel during the holiday season.

The reopening of Darjeeling hills to outsiders has led to tourists making queries about bookings in different destinations there for the Puja season, according to Raj Basu, convenor of the Association for Conservation of Tourism.

“Many destinations in Darjeeling hills and Dooars forest in North Bengal are in village areas, which have around 70 per cent share of tourist footfalls,” Basu told PTI.

Since these places are spread across villages and are not like hotels or resorts in urban centres, operators of tourism clusters are being informed about safe practices.

“Each cluster comprises around 12 to 15 villages. At the meetings in each cluster, sensitisation is being done so that the tourists, the operators as also the villagers stay safe while livelihood is also earned,” Basu said.

He said safe practices and how to deal with any kind of emergency situation are being described through workshops to the village tourism operators in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Dooars areas.