Luxury Tourism In Darjeeling & Its Future

Hi there, I have read all your posts in your website, I must say I am already benefiting from your experience in Darjeeling. I have been to Darjeeling on few occasions before, not very familiar with all the areas. As I can see you traveled extensively in different parts of the hill station, what is your view about future of Darjeeling tourism, especially the luxury segment. As you may be aware the place was known back in times for luxury tourism. 
Unfortunately this has been affected largely over time due to many reasons: declining of tea production or demand, garden owners not able to manage the costs, political instability and influx of relatively budget tourists in the city which instead of adding to its growth as one of the luxury tourist destination, had resulted in mushrooming small cheap hotels all over which costed the city the infrastructure and shortage of resources. It will be nice to get your view on this subject. 
Priya Ranjan Singh (May 2012) 
Hi Priya Ranjan, your concerns are valid. 
Darjeeling came up as a health resort and became well known for luxury tourism during the British days. Most of the luxury resorts in Darjeeling like Windamere, Mayfair etc were all set up during the colonial days and patronized by the affluent British and business tycoons. Although access to Darjeeling became far cheaper and easier with introduction of toy trains and later by other modes of transport, the up-scale trend continued well beyond India's independence. 
Although the tea gardens have been consolidated to fewer numbers since their origin and it has been a struggle for the planters to manage the cost, I personally think one of the key factors that affected luxury tourism in Darjeeling is the sustained political instability in the hills. Unfortunately, I don't yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. While there are hopes, there is still no certainty. The last thing a person wants is a spoiled vacation particularly when one is spending large sum of money.  
Many of the luxury and heritage properties in Darjeeling are being maintained mostly out of the financial might of the owners who in most cases inherited massive fortunes from their ancestors. For example, the owner of Windamere is the grandson of Rai Bahadur Laden La. When I stayed in Windamere last September, there were only 3 or 4 other guests staying in the entire property.  
One thing to remember is that majority of the inhabitants of Darjeeling area are Nepalis, about 50% of who work in the tea gardens. The balance could not find jobs in the sulking economy of the hills.  
The easiest answer therefore was to plunge into budget tourism. That suited fine with the middle class of lower plains like Siliguri and Kolkata. Now they had a chance to be where the rich could be. With rapid growth of budget hotels and eateries, the luxury tourism has gradually taken a back seat in Darjeeling. 
Today, if you take a look at the profile of tourists who come to Darjeeling on luxury tourism, they are mostly repeat visitors. Take a look at Windamere's guest list, most of them had stayed at the resort several times before and keep coming because of personal emotions and memories that are intertwined with the property and the place. 
These days, you will seldom find people from the upper social strata planning a luxury vacation in Darjeeling for the first time. People who do, have special interest for the place and its heritage. So in my opinion, it's a long way to go before luxury tourism in Darjeeling can pick up the same pace. Budget tourists can and do take little risks with the prevailing political scenarios, but not the luxury tourists. 
Having said that, there are some encouraging signs that I can see too. Tea Tourism is actually picking up in Darjeeling. This special substitute of traditional luxury tourism, blends your vacation with the serene tea garden life with stay at luxuriously refurbished planters bungalows that still retain the old colonial charm. 
Such vacation also combines many other nature and ethnic activities in and around the garden area. With the stressful lot of our own society and the world looking for a slice of time that offers pure nature's bliss, authentic &áunique garden lifestyle, plus ethnic flavor and luxury that are rare to find elsewhere in the world, Darjeeling may again become the luxury hot spot soon... who knows? 
When I look at the figures showing location and regional interest on Darjeeling from travel &átourism perspective, I see a positive trend. Here is what I derived from an online statistical chart: If one theoretically imagines that interest level in Darjeeling from within India is 100 points, then interest level in Darjeeling from France, UK and other European countries is about 30 points in the past one year. In the earlier years, such interest level from all European countries together represented only about 15-20 points. So apparently the global interest level on Darjeeling seems to be improving. 
Raj (May 2012) 
Hi Raj, 
Thank you once again for the detail feedback. Appreciate your time. Talking about luxury tourism I get your point when you say it's most of the hotels located in the Darjeeling city are suffering perhaps due to the congestion and cleanliness that's keeping the tourists away, who are seeking to escape from hectic city life. 
I think the future of Darjeeling tourism lies in the outskirts, specially for hi-end tourists. There are few properties, according to my research are doing fairly good. One of them is Glenburn, they have grown over the time and added and renovated and tweaked their offerings to match the discerning travelers. One can say that it could be their positioning in the market, especially their UK office and the Prakash family's continued support in terms of networking and investment. Although I have not been there but I must say amongst all the hotels in Darjeeling area it stands out - be it the offering, interior with great reviews of travelers. 
Recently Rajah Banerjee of MakaiBari Tea Estate has tied up with a Kolkata based real estate co. to open another relatively hi-end place in the Kurseong. 
Whatever little tourists still visit Darjeeling under luxury segment, is mainly dominated by the foreign tourists, but this I feel may change in next 4-5 years if Kolkata Rajarhaat area develops as it's planned with the Wipro and Infosys, like the Coorg Kavini near Bangalore, Rishikesh and many parts of Uttaranchal near Delhi and NCR... but again its a speculation and things might just stay in pipeline and may get further delayed. 
Warm regards, 
Priya Ranjan Singh (May 2012) 

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