What should be the agenda for Sikkim in #2012 if it plans to be anywhere close to Switzerland?
Of course in the backdrop of the devastating September Earthquake, the first and foremost priority for the Himalayan state would be to ensure that the Sikkim is best prepared to face natural disasters like quake and flash floods, heavy rains and resulting landslides and not to forget drought. The natural disasters preparedness would also ensure that Sikkim is able to feed herself and produce sufficient cash crops to bring farmers a decent income and ultimately improvement in livelihood.
But the mainstay of Sikkim’s economy i.e. tourism should remain the short and long term priority for the policymakers and people. Before we talk about the next X Factor that should be the Big Agenda for Sikkim in 2012, let’s not deny that Sikkim is already a popular tourism destination. It’s altogether different that’s hardly enough for Sikkim to be called a major tourist destination.
The real challenge is to take tourism in Sikkim to its next level. You can’t expect people to come back to Sikkim again and again for seeing mountains and natural beauty. For that matter it’s important to understand that tourists and merry makers do not rush to Switzerland for ice-skating alone.
It’s the oomph factor, about Switzerland, Dubai, and even backdoor ASEAN countries like Singapore and to some extent Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia that make them a sought after destination. They are not only places where people can enjoy their loneliness and companion with their friends when they go on a vacation but they are also places where people long to live for their entire lives. Sikkim nonetheless is far behind even Indian destinations like Goa and Kerala.
What a 21st century tourist fed-up of city life wants today is a well conserved natural beauty to relish. At the same time, they do need a modern, affordable and comfortable life while on tours and means to stay in touch with the rest of the world.
Last year during an interaction with iSikkim.com, CNN IBN Journalist from Sikkim Karma Paljor said, “If Anil and Mukesh Ambani want to go to Sikkim today for a business conference they won’t be able to do so even willingly. There is no air and rail connectivity; even the roads are pathetic. If they, somehow, manage to reach there, they won’t find a world class accommodation. Ignore even this but where would they find a reliable high-speed internet connection?”
Sikkim might not be able to have the Ambanis even if all of the above things become available. But it certainly can have many times more tourists than those who reach there now.
Sikkim has introduced para-gliding, trekking, and bike riding in recent years but the tourism industry is still farm from mature. The growth in number of tourists visiting Sikkim gives Sikkimese people and its government an impression that all is well. Certainly, that is not even half the truth.
Switzerland received more than 10 million tourists in 2010. Even Goa received nearly 3 million tourists in 2010. The highest number of foreign tourists who visit Sikkim never crossed the 5000 mark in a month ever till now.
Sikkim can’t afford to go for shortcuts and half measures if it has to be a tourist destination. Building casinos might be a welcome step but casinoes alone would not making Sikkim a Switzerland.
Sikkim would need to emerge as a shopping and fun destination; a destination which film makers and market executives adore and party-goers count on as their first choice.
At the same time it is also important that other aspects of human endeavours are also developed in Sikkim. A few world class universities, a few niche products with enviable reputation, a highly educated libertarian civil society, a truly democratic and liberal society; all of this can make a lot of difference than sending a few hoteliers and travel agents to tourism promotion fairs. It’s empowering every Sikkimese where Sikkim should need to focus on rather than a top to bottom approach.
What else do you think should be done to make Sikkim a global destination.