If you ask a person who belongs to Sikkim about what business sectors they think their state could flourish in, 9 out of 10 people will say that the tourism sector has a lot of potential. With a plethora of tourists flowing into the state each year – 5 Lakh tourists both domestic and foreign – who visit Sikkim annually on average since 2008 with a regional record of 14.25 lakh tourists during 2017. Tourism in Sikkim has become an epitome of success in a given sector of a state, having said that, tourism is still not managed properly, in retrospect as per private and government stakeholders.
Rooms of ‘Tag Along’ for backpackers
Most tourists in Sikkim visit and take tours around the major hotspots and are mostly engaged in the sights and areas that have been the main focus of the state’s tourism appeal, but speaking to private stakeholders in the tourism sector in Sikkim after in-depth research and analysis in tourism trends all over the world, the stakeholders gave Sikkim Chronicle a different perspective on the whole tourism sector and how it has a broader appeal if the outreach was better formed.
The stakeholders in the private areas of the tourism business sectors in Sikkim have been changing the outlook and approach to the tourism trends in Sikkim, as tourism and travel on a global scale has been changing rapidly with more people becoming eager towards a more authentic and rustic approach to travelling, where exploration and closer understanding of different cultural communities and heritage takes more space in itineraries.
“There are very few to no outreach programs by the government that can impact tourism in Sikkim, we have a lot of contribution towards the tourism sector in terms of infrastructure that can entice tourists but in terms of the whole outreach policies, we are lagging, but it will soon catch up’, Rewaj Chettri, the CEO of NE Taxi, one of the stakeholders in Sikkimese tourism, shares with Sikkim Chronicle.
As anyone with an internet connection and a social media handle can see, social media pages have been flooded in recent decades with travellers and explorers who have made it a lifestyle to travel and explore other cultures, such has been a wave in the contemporary world, as seducing it looks, it is rather costly for people who have a free spirit. Millennial wanderlusts with economic inflation all around the world have started a way around these hurdles in the way of their wanderlust lifestyles, which is backpacking.
Backpacking is a disposition of travelling in lower costs for independent travellers, earlier taken as a negligible activity by social outcasts, it has now emerged as a more mainstream thing in tourism, in contemporary times it is practised more by the youth. A form of youth travel, this is mostly done in the sabbatical years, and also practised by older people on breaks or during retirement.
Backpacker tourism mostly, but not in all occasions include, hitchhiking and travelling via public transports, using inexpensive to cheap lodging like hostels, engaging in experience more than sightseeing, staying for longer durations in their destinations compared to conventional vacations, using online tools to plan trips and to book their experiences, and carrying their belongings in a minimalistic manner in backpacks, hence the term.
In the modern world backpacking has not just come out as a trend but a means to education and spiritual atonement of one’s true and higher self, it has been tied with a deeper connection to the universe and to sense it devoid of materialism.
More people are getting inclined towards this as the world itself has been sensing a more empathic surge to all the actions, this empathic living has been emphatic in its sense, with the world now connected and closely knit with the help of the internet, more people have been sensing the need to explore to learn and to grow.
In Sikkim, the tourism trends have hitherto been sightseeing rather than experiential, with more tourists rather than travellers to be seen, the scene is gradually moving in a different direction, more people are now keen on experiential tourism rather than just visiting hotspots of the area, people want to know a culture on a personal level and have been delving more into exploring the unexplored, visiting rural areas, trying cuisines, languages, and lifestyles all in all.
People have become more eager to look for establishments that deal in experiential tourism. One such establishment in Sikkim that has been paving the way in changing the tourism trends is Tag Along Backpackers in Gangtok.
Sikkim Chronicle spoke with the establishment to shed some light on why more backpackers have been visiting the establishment, and what experiential tourism is all about.
Tagalong describes itself as “a travel company committed to helping you discover offbeat places through the eyes and ears of locals. Through our backpacker’s hostel, Travel Café, and fixed departure unique local trips, we’re committed to helping you explore like never before. ‘Tag Along’ with us to make your travels laced with warmth, comfort, and love.” They further add that Tag Along is an amalgamation of young groups of travellers who understand and value the importance of unique and local travel experiences, bringing people closer to the natural world while also soaking up the culture and stories of the people and places people encounter on our journey.
The trends are changing and Tag Along is now at the forefront of experiential tourism. “Tourism is so broadly based that anyone can carve one’s niche and be sustainable within that niche. The team at Tag Along are travellers who look at experiences more than points of cover and this exactly what we want to deliver to our customers”, says Manisha Sharma and Bhavana Sharma, the proprietors of Tag Along.
The demographic that has been mainly millennial have been intrigued by the approach and outreach that Tag Along has played out, the communities that they reach are mainly travellers who propagate the authenticity and services through their stories.
“People are attracted to Tag Along because our entire messaging on various platforms is “fun & experiential”. In a sea of captive demand, we find customers who are attracted to what we offer. The sets of customers who come to our establishment are very clear about immersing themselves in Sikkim and want to experience all that Sikkim offers first hand. So far, our customers have given us great feedback and a lot of references and word of mouth leads.” Manisha and Bhavana quote.
“There is a spectrum of tourists, from high spenders to being extremely in budget and within that spectrum, as a state, we should analyse what kind of tourists we want. This is also driven by what businesses our Sikkim can offer. We have to find the equilibrium inland and then supply at all levels of the spending spectrum (as a business model). We should also develop resilience as businesses to deal with unforeseeable, short term and medium term slum in tourist footfall. To always engage with tourist we have to study the festivals model, off-season tourist attraction model, culture model and Flora and fauna model of attracting visitors to the state.
Furthermore, the capital Gangtok should seriously consider the MICE model (MICE stands for meetings, incentives, conferencing & exhibitions. It is a niche area of tourism that is focused around the planning and booking of groups for large events, conferences or seminars) to make Sikkim the perfect MICE destination for corporate and institution.”