Darjeeling, Nov 27 (Siliguri Journal) – Darjeeling municipality has chosen to charge a “tourist tax” for visitors to the hill town. This decision is raising questions from nearby hotel owners.
According to sources from The Telegraph, the collection of the Rs 20 daily tax per visitor (above the age of five) has been outsourced through a tender process. The municipality set a base price of Rs 25 lakh, and the highest bidder successfully offered Rs 28.25 lakh, as per the information provided.
The agency responsible for tax collection will recruit collectors, each equipped with a uniform and an identity card. The contract amount is to be paid in two installments: the first within a week of receiving the work order and the second as instructed by the municipality.
The work order, detailing the commencement of collections, is anticipated to be issued on Monday.
Darjeeling municipality chairman Dipendra Thakuri has confirmed that the tax collection will commence very soon.
Hoteliers express discontent, stating, “The decision was taken by the municipality without consulting us. We had a very bad experience regarding a similar initiative in the past,” one hotelier voiced concerns.
This marks the fourth occasion when Darjeeling municipality has implemented a tourist tax. However, on each prior occasion, the initiative faded away a few months after the collection began.
The initial instance was in 2008, followed by a Rs 3 tax per person per day in 2011, and then increased to Rs 10 per person per day in 2012.
Previous failures were attributed to the lack of cooperation from hoteliers and a porous system of tax collection and deposition. Private agencies were appointed without a tender process, contributing to the challenges.
In contrast this time, with the municipality requiring an upfront installment from the private agency, the collection is expected to persist, or else, the agency will face financial losses, as indicated by a source. Several hoteliers mentioned that in previous instances, collectors would arrive and “demand” to inspect the hotel register at their discretion.
A hotelier expressed frustration, stating, “The collectors asked us to collect the tax and hand it over to them. It is not our job to collect the tax. The tourists, too, are unwilling to pay.” Many hoteliers advocate for the municipality to collect the tax at Darjeeling’s entry points, similar to standard practices in tourist destinations like Gulmarg and Nainital.
A hotelier stated, “We have no problem if the civic body decides to collect tax but let them collect it before they enter the hotel, maybe at the entry points to the town.” District officials, on the other hand, argue that collection at entry points is impractical.
An official highlighted, “It will be time-consuming to identify the tourists in a vehicle. On the narrow Darjeeling roads, such a pile-up of vehicles would create a massive traffic jam during the peak tourist season.” The officials argue that hotels are best positioned to determine a visitor’s length of stay.
Sources reveal that the private agency has started providing “tourist tax receipts” to hotels. However, some hoteliers are hesitant to accept the receipt books, and concerns are arising regarding the contract amount. An observer noted, “During a good tourism year, nearly 10 lakh tourists visit Darjeeling. Even if collection is done only from 70 per cent of the arrivals, we are looking at a collection figure far higher than the bid amount.”
Darjeeling boasts around 400 hotels, and a significant number of tourists opt for homestays. However, there’s uncertainty about homestays as the tender specifically covered hotels, according to an administrative source. Visitors staying with friends or relatives also seem likely to be exempt from the tax.