Temi & Tea
Tea Tourism is a relatively new concept in the world and Sikkim can be a new entrant to the field. Tea centered tourism has already become popular in South India and Bengal Dooars. Adjacent Darjeeling also started making organized efforts to promote Tea Tourism centering some of the selected heritage gardens like “Makai Bari” and “Margate’s Hope”. Up on the hills with cool breeze and misty weather, Tea Gardens form a wonderland where tea grows in the finest form like nowhere else in the world. The Heritage Tea Estate at Temi definitely adds to this existing list of gardens as an attraction.
Temi in South Sikkim, a quintessential hamlet in high mountains is a familiar destination in the tourist circuit – a must in the bucket list of places to visit. The tea garden of Temi is laid over an idyllic sloping green up in the mountains at an average height of 1200 to 1800 meters. The road to Namchi meanders through the sprawling tea bushes and cherry trees, looking over a flowing Teesta river deep below in the gorge. In seasons, the greens are dotted with Pluckers in their colourful costumes bent over the tea bushes – making the passage thriving with sparkling goings-on.
What does tourism mean to you? To many, the word conjures images of idyllic beaches, mesmeric garlands of mountain ranges, fascinating historical excursions, or even a long overdue opportunity for retail therapy. But what does tourism mean to the communities being visited? Are we aware of the effects it has on them?
For the past couple of years Ms Mrinalini Shrivastava has been developing a workable and effective process for implementing a tourism policy for Temi and its attractions around. The biggest issues that could delay, or even scuttle, such a project are: commitment, short-termism, and the commoditisation of the tourism experience.
Tourism: The Briefest of Histories
Tourism has developed greatly over the past few centuries. It is no longer an activity reserved to the elite. In 2017, traveller totals reached 1,586 million globally, a rise of 52 million from the previous year. Of those, more than half (53%) travelled for leisure purposes. This comes despite the threats of terrorism, natural cataclysms, and economic recession.
As of date tourism success is pegged against absolute numbers, a kind of short-term analysis that has many shortcomings. Principal stakeholders––politicians and business people––need practically instant, tangible returns on investment, a modus operandi that is simply unsustainable.
The ‘carrot’ many businesspersons and politicians dangle in front of the communities––the employment opportunities––is not quite as fresh and enticing as it once was given that many of the jobs in hospitality and tourism are being taken up by so called outsiders.
Collaboration between stakeholders is key to answer this question.
And this cannot be a reactive strategy, a result of market forces or legal requirements. It has to be a move that is understood to be the way Temi avoids that commoditisation and development which reduces the very character and uniqueness which attracted the tourist at the outset.
In Sikkim, tourism is considered as a natural industry that enjoys policy thrusts and factor advantages. The attached thrust matrix clearly establishes the rationale behind the current initiative of sustainable development through area tourism development in Temi and Tarku. The local Organic Tea Garden is ideally suited to place a central role to create the investment environment by attracting visitors in adequate numbers to the area. In the last decade, tourism sector in Sikkim has seen a growth rate of 12 % and its contribution to the state’s GDP is estimated to be around 8 % (Source HDR, 2014) The Gross State Domestic Product of Tourism Sector in 201314 has been valued at Rs 55,914 crores with an annual growth rate of 16.34% over the previous year.
The following table presents the visitor statics during the period 2011 to 2016.
The above data indicates that visitors from overseas locations have nearly doubled over last five years and CAGR of total visitors are in the range of 8.87% pa over the same period. Further analysis of data since 2010 – indicates that
- 78% of overseas visitors and 64% of domestic visitors staying overnight, are Leisure Tourists
- 77% of visitors prefer to stay as compared to 23% of same day visitors – though in case of Temi – Tarku, the visitors are mostly same day tourists who prefer to stay either in Rabang La or Gangtok.
- USA, UK, Spain, and Canada are top markets while South Africa and Netherlands are the low contributors of foreign tourists. Nepal also contributes approximately 7% in this category. o It is a popular family destination, where female visitors outnumber males in both domestic as well as foreign visitor categories.
- For both domestic and foreign visitor segments Sikkim is preferred by mid-income groups – which for overseas visitors is mid–to–high [> US$ 80,000 pa]
- Small private accommodations with around 11 to 15 rooms are most preferred enjoying approximately 40% of the market
- Travel mode is arranged directly by domestic visitors, while 67% of foreign visitors operate through Tour Operators for local transportation
- Average duration of stay is around 1.2 days for both segment of visitors based on occupancy data analysis – while the visitors based out of Gangtok region, the day count tends to be around 2.1 days
- Sikkim is preferred by visitors of the age groups 25 – 34 and 35 to 44 [70% of total] from domestic segment and by 25 to 34 age group [69% of total] in the foreign visitor segment.
A recent study on forecasting the visitor count in Sikkim has established that – though both domestic and foreign segment is increasing at 8.77% pa [CAGR] and the trend is expected to continue, there are specific trends where –
- Domestic segment has a distinct seasonality factor with high peaks and lows, over the span of 12 months studied for 7 consecutive years where as
- Foreign segment does not have any annual seasonality factor as most of the visitors use a 6monthly window each year without any specifically identifiable Highs or lows.
These trends are important to note as they have direct bearing on any capacity planning. Further, fragile, and sensitive ecology of Sikkim, specifically the rich flora and fauna of South Sikkim, makes it imperative that limits are to be imposed externally to create any capacity and controlling the visitor flow in the future. The state is already having a visitor flow that is close to 100% of its population base.
While planning for any sustainable economic development in Sikkim, it is pertinent to note the factors that presents Sikkim advantage
- Natural resources – Sikkim is naturally endowed with rich flora and fauna. Its climate and topographical conditions support industries such as agriculture, horticulture, food processing, tourism and nontimber forest produce.
- Policy and fiscal incentives – The state follows the North East Industrial Investment Promotion Policy, 2007, which makes any investment proposal for the state highly competitive by providing several incentives and concessions
- Institutional support – The state provides excellent institutional support through various central and state government agencies viz., North East Council, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Commerce, and Industries Department. [Incidentally, it will be interesting to note that the Temi Tea Garden is owned by Commerce & Industries Department, Government of Sikkim.]
- Facilitating infrastructure – Sikkim is well connected by state and national roads. Telecommunication connectivity compares with the national standards. Air connectivity is also being developed in the state that is expected to start operations in the near future.
- Rich Labour Pool – Sikkim has a high literacy rate; with the establishment of Sikkim Manipal University and the Sikkim University, the quality and quantity of employable graduates has improved in the state.
- Stable political environment – The state has a stable political set up committed towards creating a progressive business environment.
Based on analysis of available data, visitor pattern experienced specific to South Sikkim [with focus on Temi – Tarku region], and investment facilitating advantages detailed above – it is forecasted that
- Accommodation be made for 200 bed-nights in the region providing for 10% of the total visitor nights [i.e. based on an average 300-day operation pa – a capacity be created for 60,000 bednights].
- Food & Beverages capacity should be around 78,000 covers p.a. assuming an additional 28% of visitors will be same day tourists. This means, an approximately 18,000 cover space to be created only for Cafes and Restaurants.
The capacity proposed needs to be created over a time span of 12 to 18 months, so that the region gets ready to meet the requirements of the expected visitor’s inflow and associated facilities & services supports.
Qualitative Concept for Tourism
The solution here is to build strong synergies based on trust and honesty between all stakeholders, and to maximise those skills which each group or organisation can provide the project or initiative with.
The MD of Temi Tea Estate MS Mrinalini Shrivastava IPS (she is from the Indian Police Services and of DIG rank) opined with a lot of conviction that Marketing is the final issue. She said cutting into the market share of any established tourism industry means looking for that potential client who wants to be at a destination rather than the one who happens to be there. The challenge here is to persuade practitioners that new and diverse experiences can offer a broader perspective of a destination and reduce the uncertainties of the mainstream markets. This also, however, feeds into the first issue of financial resources. Temi would need to rebrand to attract a different kind of tourist –
Looking to communities
The research project to develop community-based tours, which is being spearheaded by Mrinalini Shrivastava & The Temi Tourism Committee will provide the basis for developing a strategy or policy document on the Introduction of Community-Based Tourism for the Temi and may even serve as a template for other destinations.
Mrinalini is striving to develop the project in five stages. We started with the development of itineraries and maps together with local councils, local businesses, and the local community. These itineraries list those places of interest in any locality (town or village) that have socio-cultural value as well as a living history. These itineraries serve as a guide for visitors who would like to learn more about the locality, but are also a vehicle through which the local community can develop a sense of awareness and belonging, a vital element in the creation of a sustainable and authentic visitor experience. She has an infectious smile when she proclaims the same with elan laced with conviction.
The next stage involves the development of community-based tours, activities where the visitor has the opportunity to meet the locals rather than simply looking at the places they inhabit. This whole process will mirror the development of the itineraries and maps, turning it into a collaborative effort that meets the needs of all involved.
At the next stage, the community-based tour will undergo a marketing process that is unique. Rather than looking at promoting this tour for groups, it should offer an opportunity for one-to-one personalised hospitality and service. Besides an online presence, there also needs to be hospitality meetings with potential visitors who prefer this more individual experience.
The final stage consists of a continuous study to monitor the progress of the community-based tour and itineraries. The monitoring should be used to tweak and perfect the original project.
Temi Tourism that works
This shift is a challenge. Financial means are another hurdle as are the differing aims of organisations. However, consistent and continuous commitment by all the key stakeholders through dialogue, trust, and synergy combined with rigorous planning and implementation of a long-term plan that satisfies the needs of all involved is the only way towards an integrated, holistic, and inclusive tourism strategy. It needs to be sustainable and responsible to offer the quality destination the Maltese Islands deserve.
In addition to above, keeping the profile of an average visitor in perspective, the MD further proposes to create tourism activities to create additional attractions using the nature and creative investments.
A few additional projects proposed are as follows-
- Short & Long Trekks: identify eco-tourism/high-terrain trails that will attract the young visitors interested in trekking. Lots of visitors come to Sikkim Himalayas for high terrain trekking experience. Identified Trekks need to be promoted globally as well as in the domestic market. For Trekks longer than a day facilities for camping, storing and porter services to be created, besides organizing trained guides. – Implementation: Short Trekks – Immediate | Long Trekks – Intermediate.
- Adventure Sports: create facilities for Zip Lines, Biking, Para Gliding, Pony Ride, and similar adventure sports.
- Mountain biking facilities can be created within the garden perimeters after careful survey of the locale and without impacting the organic nature of its operations. – Implementation: Immediate
- Pony Rides are also easy to start with low investments using the Garden paths. – Implementation: Immediate
- However, Zip Lines or Para Gliding facilities can be created only after proper survey of locations. – Implementation: Survey – Immediate | Execution – Intermediate
- Day Trips: Create linkages to nearby interests – Rabang / Namchi using the local taxi and tour operators.
To operationalize these projects, it is essential that detailed plans are made immediately for the following
- Creating a coordination agency that will synchronize all the stake holders like local taxi operators, tour operators and the facilities operators
- Arrange for short duration training for all the operators using the State Institutions with specially designed short skill development courses
She signs of with her signature anthem
“Thoughts are your own motivations – keep them a fillip – Temi & tourism will go a long way”