Sikkim Tourism Tourism Policy
GOVERNMENT OF SIKKIM DEPTT. OF TOURISM & CIVIL AVIATION
GOVERNMENT OF SIKKIM
03592-202575 (O) 03592-202304 (R) E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org Gangtok-737103 Sikkim
SHRI PAWAN CHAMLING
Chief Minister of Sikkim
MESSAGE OF HON’BLE CHIEF MINISTER
The Sikkim Human Development Report 2014 recognised tourism as one of the potential sectors for growth and livelihood creation. With its beautiful landscape, diverse flora and fauna, culture and traditions, and warm hospitable people, Sikkim has a comparative advantage in tourism. Since the last decade of the previous century, the state has emerged as a brand in itself, a feel good destination “Where Nature Smiles”.
For Sikkim, tourism is not only about boosting the economy of the state. It is also as important for building peace between communities and nations and a tool to promote and conserve our unique cultures, and also the environment. We are aware that such a tool if wrongly used, could be costly to our natural and cultural heritage, which makes the need for a guiding policy that makes it much more important.
I congratulate the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department for drafting of the Sikkim Tourism Policy, a policy that is grounded on environmental sustainability and preservation of our cultural heritage. The policy highlights the need for capacity building to develop trained human resource in this sector, without which it will not be possible to raise the standards of the tourism industry, which is one of the important goals of the tourism policy. I sincerely hope that the value of this document is understood by the tourism stakeholders, tourism entrepreneurs, and service providers whose support and cooperation is highly critical for putting the policy into action. Our government has been working for creation of new tourism destinations with development of world class tourism infrastructures. A planned approach for development of the sector is, therefore, envisaged for the future, one that provides employment to upcoming entrepreneurs spreading the benefits to the community at large, while also safeguarding our fragile ecosystems.
I am hopeful this policy shall guide Sikkim’s tourism towards a sustainable pathway for the future.
Tourism and Civil Aviation Department
Government of Sikkim
Paryatan Bhawan, Tadong
Gangtok, East Sikkim-737102
SHRI UGEN T. GYATSO
MESSAGE OF HON’BLE MINISTER
I am delighted to know that Tourism and Civil Aviation Department is bringing out the Sikkim Tourism Policy 2018. I am glad that the policy is coming out just a year after 2017 which was declared by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and in tune with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. This policy having incorporated the principles of sustainable development will greatly help in ensuring that the path taken by the tourism industry in Sikkim will lead to sustainability of the environment and culture of the state in the long run.
As we are all aware that Sikkim over the last two decades, has evolved as a favourite and successful tourist destination which has been attributed mainly to its picturesque landscape ranging from green fields and forests, pristine rivers and lakes to lofty snow clad mountains and its diverse and rich cultures. Sikkim offers a wide variety of destinations and circuits to attract tourists which together with the proactive approach and policies of the State Government over the last two decades has led to unprecedented growth of the tourism industry. The huge investment in infrastructure and human resources have enabled the tourism industry to emerge as the largest service industry in the private sector. The state has also made concerted efforts to promoting the huge potential of unique products such as village tourism, ecotourism and organic farming. People of Sikkim owe a huge gratitude to our visionary Chief Minister, Shri Pawan Kr. Chamling for taking Sikkim to where it stands today. Under his leadership, Sikkim was conferred the status of first fully organic farming state in the year 2016. His green initiatives have been well appreciated and recognized by all within and outside the country.
In order to reap maximum benefit from tourism and at the same time preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the state, a document prescribing certain principles, guidelines and strategies for the stakeholders as well as the implementing agencies was thought to be of utmost importance. Sikkim Tourism Policy 2018 has been formulated with this aim in the mind. The Policy document has laid great emphasis on maintaining a balance between nature and tourist related infrastructure & activities. It contains a set of guidelines for planning tourism related activities with optimum environmental care and keeping in mind the principles of conservation and sustainability. This document has also set targets and goals for the State in the field of tourism and will act as a guiding document for all the people directly or indirectly dependent on it. Efforts have been taken towards making tourism a key driving factor for economic upliftment while conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the State. I hope that this document fulfils the purpose it is formulated for and brings about the positive changes that are required for complete success of the Tourism Industry in Sikkim.
Tourism and Civil Aviation Department Government of Sikkim Paryatan Bhawan, Tadong Gangtok, East Sikkim-737102
SHRI C.P. DHAKAL
F O R E WO R D
Sikkim has now transformed itself into a world class tourist destination. Be it in agriculture, cleanliness, health and education, it has set a benchmark for other states to follow and tourism is no exception. As testimony to this, Sikkim has been receiving awards and recognition both at the National and International level. A credit largely attributed to the dynamic leadership of the Hon'ble Chief Minister, the state today has nurtured an environment highly conducive for tourism industry to foster. It is a matter of pride for all of us but this achievement also sets before us great challenges to maintain our position to be amongst the best tourist destinations in the country. Moreover the complexity of the industry, as a result of involvement of independent sectors like transport, accommodation and the fragility of our resources, demands a careful approach to maintain a balanced and sustainable path of development.
A dire need was hence felt of a document that could be a guiding force to regulate the tourism industry of Sikkim. Such a document needed to be based upon a participatory approach consolidating the collective views of all stakeholders. The “Sikkim Tourism Policy 2018” thus is an outcome of a series of brainstorming and successive meetings with the tourism stakeholders, scholars and officers from various line departments wherein the best of suggestions have been incorporated to make this document meaningful.
The Department is highly indebted to ECOSS and WWF -India for their meticulous drafting of the policy by patiently incorporating a series of changes as a result of relay meetings for finalisation of the draft. I also thank TAAS, SAATO, SHRA, SAMA, SUTO, SPA, Sikkim University, G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development and all other organisations for their valuable inputs. We have also referred to the National Tourism Policy 2002 and the tourism policies of the other states particularly of those who have similar topography and terrain as that of our state, thus adding to the appropriateness of this document.
I hope this document serves the purpose for which it has been designed as a guiding document towards sustained tourism growth for Sikkim.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Hon’ble Chief Minister
Hon’ble Minister, Tourism & Civil Aviation Department
Foreword – Secretary, Tourism & Civil Aviation Department
SECTION A - BACKGROUND
1.1 Global Tourism Scenario
1.2 Tourism in mountain regions
1.3 Tourism in India
2. TOURISM AND THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 2.1 Key considerations
3. TOURISM IN SIKKIM
3.1 State Profile/ Natural Landscape / Culture and People
3.2 Tourism Development in Sikkim
3.3 Tourism in the economy
3.4 Strengths and challenges of tourism in Sikkim
3.5 Need for a tourism policy for Sikkim
3.6 Methodology for policy development
SECTION B - SIKKIM TOURISM POLICY
2. GUIDING PRINCIPLES
4. KEY TOURISM PRODUCTS
• Establish and strengthen Institutional Structures to promote, manage and implement responsible tourism in Sikkim
• Ensure that Sikkim has the highest level of skills and capacity for quality service delivery through consistent human resource development
• Promote Standards and Certification for the Tourism Industry
• Promote sustainably managed tourism destinations, quality tourism infrastructure and safe Transport
• Promote high value and high quality tourism products
• Ensure strategic and sustained marketing and publicity
• Promote enabling environment for tourism stakeholders
• Facilitate inter-sectoral coordination and convergence
1.1 Global Tourism Scenario
Tourism is a socio-cultural and economic phenomenon, which entails the movement of people to countries or places outside of their usual environment for recreational, business, medical, or religious purposes. Tourism also encourages governments to develop and improve local infrastructure to handle tourist inflow. Several countries have transformed themselves through tourism and have created a global presence in the tourism industry. Tourist movements have spread geographically to reach practically all countries of the globe, becoming for many of them an important economic sector in terms of income generation, foreign exchange earnings and employment creation.
As reported by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Tourism Highlights 2017 Edition, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) grew by 3.9% in 2016 to reach a total of 1,235 million worldwide, an increase of 46 million over the previous year. It was the seventh consecutive year of above average growth in international tourism following the 2009 global economic crisis. South Asia recorded an 8% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2016, driven by India (+10%), the sub region's top destination The UNWTO estimates that approximately 1 in 10 persons in the world are employed by the tourism industry. As of 2016, the global tourism industry generated USD 7.6 trillion, constituting 10% of the global GDP. International tourist arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by 3.3% a year between 2010 and 2030 to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO's long-term forecast report Tourism Towards 2030. Arrivals in emerging destinations are expected to increase at twice the rate of those in advanced economies. Market share of emerging economies are expected to grow from 45% in 2016 to reach 57% by 2030, equivalent to over 1 billion international tourist arrivals.
1.2 Tourism in mountain regions
As desired destinations for many tourists, migrants and pilgrims, tourism in the mountains offers places for rest, solitude, adventure, recreation, as well as scenic beauty. It is estimated that more than 50 million people visit mountains each year (Mountain Partnership 2008). The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that mountains attract roughly 15 to 20% of the global tourism market. Mountain tourism is generally more labour intensive than tourism in the plains, necessitating a greater number of support staff (porters, mountain guides, pack animal owners) to accompany trekking groups or mountaineering expeditions, and to carry supplies up to remote mountain tourism destinations not connected by road or air. While tourism provides considerable economic benefits for many countries, regions and communities, its rapid expansion can also be responsible for adverse environmental (and socio-cultural) impacts.
For years, mountains have attracted tourist attention especially because of the cool climate they offer. With temperatures increasing across the plains due to climate change and the extreme summer months, the mountains are a much preferred destination. Cultural identities and diversity in mountain regions, refined over generations by local habitants and the splendid natural heritage have immense value and attract tourists from all over the world.
The ever-increasing demand for tourism in mountain areas is expected to grow even further as regional tourism becomes more important. However, it presents tremendous opportunities as well as threats for the Himalayas. The investment, as well as operational and managerial decisions of tour operators, along with other tourism professionals and the wider industry can determine the level of both negative and positive impacts of tourism in the mountain environment. The fact that most tourists chose to maintain their relatively high patterns of consumption (and waste generation) when they reach their destinations is being seen as a serious problem for developing countries, since many of these regions lack the appropriate means for protecting their natural resources and local ecosystems from the pressures of mass tourism. [Frederico Neto, 2002]
1.3 Tourism in India
In the Indian context, the first public milestone in the history of tourism was the creation of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) in 1966. This organization was established to develop tourist infrastructure and services. Subsequently, India developed its first Tourism Policy in 1982 which provided an action plan based on the development of so-called tourism circuits. This interest also resulted in the recognition of tourism as an export industry (including the implied tax exemptions) and the creation of a special public Tourism Finance Corporation (1987). Apart from identifying a few areas for 'integrated tourism development', the purpose of the plan was to achieve an overall growth and improvement of the tourism sector in India through marketing, infrastructure building and human resource development.
The importance of domestic tourism was recognized by public policy makers in the 1990s and also in the Tourism Action Plan of 1997. It was decided that domestic tourism would be a state government (policy) issue and the central government would take care of international tourists. In 2002, India came up with a new Tourism Policy, which sought to highlight tourism's contribution to national development and its role as a development tool.
A World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report for 2014 states that for India the total contribution of tourism to the GDP is Rs. 7,642.5 billion rupees, approximately 6.7% of the GDP. Between 2002 and 2014, foreign tourist arrivals grew from 2.38 million to 7.70 million, the latter of which accounts for 0.68% of global tourist arrivals. Domestic tourist visits have increased from 270 million in 2002 to 1.14 billion in 2013. This has largely been attributed to the emergence of an urban middle class which looks to tourism for recreational purposes. In 2014, tourism in India earned Rs. 1,200,083 million or 1.58% of global tourism receipts.
The Indian tourism industry is responsible for creating 23 million direct jobs (or 5.5% of total jobs in India) and 36.6 million total jobs (or 8.7% of total jobs in India). In 2013, India demonstrated a 4% growth in tourism, or approximately 7 million international arrivals. The WTTC also states that for a period of 2014-2024 international tourist arrivals in India are expected to grow at the rate of 6.4%, whereas global tourism is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5% through 2014 and beyond.
2. TOURISM AND THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The year 2015 was a milestone for global development as 193 member states including India adopted the “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Through an unprecedented consultative process involving national governments and millions of citizens across the globe, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 associated targets were developed. This ambitious agenda sets out a global framework to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change until 2030. The goals and targets are people-centric, transformative, universal and integrated.
“Harnessing tourism's benefits will be critical to achieving the sustainable development goals and implementing the post-2015 development agenda”
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, World Tourism Day 2014
The United Nations 70th General Assembly designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector that contributes to the SDGs. In the context of these developments it becomes imperative that the Sikkim Tourism Policy encompasses the principles of sustainability taking into account the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development so as to directly contribute to attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Tourism has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to all of the goals. In particular, it has been included as targets under Goal 8 -Inclusive and sustainable economic growth, Goal 12 - Sustainable consumption and production and Goal 14 - Sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. The targets mentioned under the goals specify devising and implementing policies to promote sustainable tourism which creates jobs, promotes local culture and products. Achieving this
agenda, however, requires a clear implementation framework, adequate financing and investment in technology, infrastructure and human resources.
2.1 Key considerations
The Sustainable Development Goals is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity and has been developed to address the three pillars of the economic, socio-cultural and environment. Tourism impacts all three, and therefore is a key sector that can contribute to the achievement of SDGs.
The tourism industry is a provider of employment across the world. Poverty alleviation is one of the greatest global challenges, and sustainable tourism provides immense opportunities to address this issue. Tourism that focuses around communities with targeted pro poor initiatives has tremendous potential to bring about economic as well as social upliftment.
Providing authentic cultural experiences for visitors lies at the heart of sustainable tourism, which reinforces the need to conserve cultural heritage. At the same time, tourism also provides the opportunity to address gender issues through strengthening women's participation and their role in decision making. The UNWTO Code of Global Ethics for tourism calls for gender equality which provides a strong foundation for this SDG.
For tourism to sustain in the long run, it is imperative that tourism policies take a strong stand on safeguarding the environment. Tourism demands safe water and proper sanitation as well as safe cities and communities for its visitors. Unlike other businesses, tourism has incentive to provide all these to both attract visitors and encourage them to return.
(State Income Unit
3. TOURISM IN SIKKIM
3.1 State Profile
Sikkim, the Hidden Land for many years, came into lime light after it became the 22nd State of the country in 1975. Previously a tiny kingdom tucked away in an inaccessible corner of the Eastern Himalayas, an air of mystery and mysticism surrounds this small state. Located in the north east of India, Sikkim is a landlocked State spread across 7,096 Km2 that shares three international borders with Nepal in the west, Bhutan in the east, and Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north and east. The State of West Bengal lies to the south of Sikkim. In 2002, it joined the North Eastern Council (NEC) to become its eighth and youngest member.
Sikkim is a wholly mountainous State, with one third of its area lying above 3,000 meters, of which a large portion is covered by snowcapped peaks, glaciers and alpine meadows. This natural steep topography is a determining factor for the state vis-a-vis land-use pattern, connectivity issue, and infrastructure development.
The climate of Sikkim is highly varied due to factors related to wide range of elevation and also partly due to diverse configuration of surrounding high mountains, valleys and water bodies. The weather ranges from sub-tropical humid climate to temperate alpine and arctic. The average temperature of the state varies from sub-zero during winter to 28 degrees centigrade during summers, while precipitation varies from 2,700 mm to 3,200 mm.
With a population of 6,10,577 in 2011, Sikkim is the least populous State of India. The population is unevenly distributed within the State's four districts, East, West, North and South. Sikkim's population is still largely rural, and over 60 per cent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture and allied sectors. Sikkim's literacy rate has had a remarkable jump from less than 7 per cent in 1951 to 82 per cent in 2011. The State's per capita income for 2015-2016 is recorded as Rs. 2,59,950 (at current price) which is the highest among the northeastern states.
Sikkim has an altitudinal gradient that rises from 300 meters to the highest point of India, Mount Khangchendzonga, which stands tall at 8,586 meters and is revered as the state's guardian deity. This elevation gradient provides a wide range of ecological conditions from low tropical, temperate to sub alpine and alpine zones. A part of the Tibetan plateau falls in North Sikkim, which adds to the natural variation in the landscape. Thus, Sikkim is a biogeographically unique landscape having a wide range of ecological conditions in a small expanse of geographical area.
Tall mountain peaks that rise above 7,000 meters, glaciers that give rise to numerous wetlands which drain into streams and rivulets characterise the high-altitude areas of the state, which lie above the tree line and have an abundance of stunted vegetation. The other major peaks are Simvo, Pandim, Kabru, and Siniolchu, which adorn the Sikkim skies.
The State has a forest cover of over 47.80 per cent (FEWMD), which is the highest in the country. With one National Park and seven Wildlife Sanctuaries that cover an area of around 2,183 Km2, Sikkim's protected area network is the largest in the country. Pristine stretches of temperate forests of conifers, oaks and rhododendrons which form important water reservoirs are found at mid to high elevations of 1,800- 3,800 meters. Tropical forests stretch between 250 -1,800 meters.
The high altitude areas of the State are home to the elusive snow leopard, which preys on the blue sheep, Tibetan argali, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan wild ass, etc. The State animal of Sikkim, the red panda, shares its temperate habitat with musk deer, Asiatic black bear, Himalayan Tahr, Goral, Serow and beautiful Pheasants such as the Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan. Apart from larger fauna, the State has a healthy diversity of birds (574 species) and butterflies of which 689 species have been recorded. Sikkim has a rich variety of flora and around 4458 flowering plants have been recorded in the State, with orchids and rhododendrons being the most highly prized.
Sikkim's two main rivers, Teesta and Rangeet, originate in the North from Teesta Khangshe glacier and West from Rathong Glacier and are fed as they flow down the valleys by numerous other streams and rivulets. Most of the high altitude wetlands that dot the landscape of the state are revered as sacred by locals. The Phamrong in West, Seven Sisters and Lingzya waterfalls in North are some of the state's beautiful scenic spots.
Culture and People
Sikkim's population comprises many ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups, each characterized by their unique culture, customs and traditions that exhibit strong bonds with nature and the environment. The three main communities are Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalis, of which 'Nepalis' form an umbrella category which includes a large number of communities such as Limboo, Rai, Gurung, Sherpa, Mangar, Chhetri, Bahun, Newar, Tamang, Bhujel, Kami, Damai,etc.
3.2 Tourism Development in Sikkim
Growth of Tourism in Sikkim
Tracing the growth of tourism in the State prior to its merger with India, tourist inflows to Sikkim were negligible. Even after merger, growth was slow till the 1980's as large areas remained inaccessible or restricted to tourists. It was only in the last decade of the century, that tourism growth picked up considerably as more areas came under relaxation of the permit regime and Sikkim gained popularity as an upcoming tourist destination. Tourism saw a big boost between 2010-17 with tourist arrival figures equalling and surpassing the State population. Today, tourism is fast evolving as one of the most important drivers of the State economy.
Tourism centres and circuits began slowly developing from Gangtok, and gradually extended to Rabong, Pelling ,Yuksam, Lachung and Lachen. Adventure tourism in the form of trekking along the Yuksam-Dzongri- Goechala trail which had begun in the pre-merger days began to pick up. Around 1988, the State Government took a decision to allow tourists to visit Tsomgo Lake. Located at a distance of only 35 km from Gangtok, the capital town, Tsomgo became the closest accessible destination to experience snowfall for tourists coming from West Bengal. This was followed by opening up of Nathula, which gave visitors an opportunity to go right up till the Chinese border point of this ancient mountain pass. Similar relaxation of permits in West Sikkim, Zuluk in East Sikkim and Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley and Yumesamdong in North Sikkim, witnessed a surge of tourist flows to these areas. These were major milestones in Sikkim's tourism history. This was also aided by the Government's decision to allow Leave Travel Concession by Air to the North East Region in 2010 for Central Government employees.
With a flourishing tourism industry that was on the one hand more veered towards mass tourism, Sikkim also pioneered in creating an ecotourism pathway weaving in principles of strong community participation, as well as nature and cultural conservation on the other. In 2002, the South Asian Regional Conference on Ecotourism was organised in Sikkim by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS) with support from UNDP and the Ministry of Tourism. This was a milestone in introducing the concept of Ecotourism to Sikkim and the North East Region and in defining community-based tourism in the state. Several ecotourism sites in different parts of the State like Kewzing, Yuksam, Dzongu and Pastanga were some of the first Community-Based Tourism (CBT) sites that evolved as a result, and established themselves. The core component of these CBT initiatives was the village homestay, a new tourism product that ensured spread of tourism benefits to local communities. Since then the Government has taken several initiatives to support village tourism and ecotourism including the notification of the Sikkim Ecotourism Policy in 2011 and the Sikkim Registration of Homestay Establishment Rules 2013 and more recently, the construction of 736 homestays (Hospitality Division, Department of Tourism, GoS) under the rural tourism programme funded by the XIII Finance Commission in different villages all over Sikkim.
Tourist arrivals in Sikkim have seen unprecedented growth in the last three decades. From a mere 15,000 tourists in 1980 to a whopping 14,24,965 tourists in 2017 (domestic and foreign), (Statistical Cell, Department of Tourism & CA GoS) the growth has indeed been tremendous. Domestic tourists grew at an average annual rate of between 10 to 25% for the period 2005 to 2017. Foreign tourist growth has shown an annual growth rate average of 8% from 2005 to 2013. State-wise domestic tourist breakup shows that the top five state visitors to Sikkim are from West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. West Bengal by itself constitutes around 55% of the tourists (TECS Tourism Master Plan). Amongst foreign tourists, the most foreign tourists visiting Sikkim are from Nepal, USA, Germany, UK, France and Thailand and Australia. In terms of proportion of domestic and foreign tourists, the figures show an overwhelming average of 95% in favour of domestic tourists for the past five years.
The Department has made constant efforts for building capacities of local stakeholders in the Tourism sector through regular trainings, such as for guides (trekking, birdwatching, mountaineering, rafting,) cooks, adventure tour operators etc. The establishments of the Institute of Hotel Management in Rumtek and the Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism in Chemchey have strongly contributed to these initiatives.
Various steps for facilitating e-governance such as facilities for online Inner-Line Permits, seeking feedback from tourists and Statistical Information System etc. have been executed by the Department which has contributed to tourist facilitation.
With regard to tourism infrastructure development, Sikkim has excelled in leveraging central funds for the construction and development of tourist wayside amenities, destination and circuit development, and unique tourist attractions such as ropeways, skywalks and landmark religious monuments. Religious tourism has been augmented with the construction of several unique and gigantic religious monuments, which includes statues of Guru Padmasambhava in Samdruptse, the ChaarDhaam at Solophok, Namchi and Lord Buddha's statue at the Tathagatha Tsal in Rabong. There are several other such statues and monuments in the pipeline. Ropeways have been built in Namchi and Tsomgo Lake. A sky walk, the first of its kind, is under construction in Bhaleydhunga while a green field airport in Pakyong is soon to be made operational.
Owing to its diversity of communities, Sikkim has a number of traditional religious festivals that attract tourists, notable amongst which are the Pang Lhabsol, Drukpa Tseshe, Tendong Lho Rum Faat,
Dasain and Tyohar, Losoong, BhumChu, Saga Dawa and Sakewa. There are also a number of tourism-focused festivals held every year in different locations around the State. Among these, the Gangtok Winter Carnival which is organized to bolster tourism during the lean season is gaining fast popularity.
The adventure tourism sector which has tremendous potential was earlier confined mainly to trekking, white water rafting and mountaineering and had seen slow growth. Recently the sector has witnessed rapid expansion through new adventure activities such as mountain biking, and paragliding. A landmark event was the recent holding of the first Sikkim FAI CATII International Paragliding Accuracy Championship. In mountaineering three new peaks Frey's Peak, Lama Angden and Brumkhangse were opened for Alpine expeditions in 2005 in addition to Mount Jopuno and Tinchenkhang. Permission for the Green Lake Trek has been transferred from the Central Government to the State Government. With its immense biodiversity wealth, the State is also attracting a growing band of nature lovers, and many young local youth are aspiring to take up professional guiding in these activities particularly in birding and butterfly watching.
Accolades and Awards
In view of the above, Sikkim has always been a forerunner in tourism development. Sikkim's success in tourism has brought the State many accolades; some notable ones are presented in the table below:
Awards Period Awarded by
Best Tourism Performing State in the North Every Year from 1998 -99 to Ministry of Tourism GOI
East (National) 2002-03 and 2005-2006
Best Ecotourism Destination 2005 Hospitality India
Best State for Tourism Related Programmes 2006-07 and Ministry of Tourism GOI
Best Adventure Tourism Destination 2008 PATWA & Safari India
Best State for Tourism Related Programmes 2007-08 Ministry of Tourism GOI
Best State/Union Territory in Tourism Related
Programmes & Development of Infrastructure 2010, 2011 Ministry of Tourism GOI
India's Most Progressive Tourism State 2010 Today’s Traveler
Best State for Comprehensive Development of 2012 Ministry of Tourism GOI
Most Innovative & Unique Tourism Project for 2012 Ministry of Tourism GOI
Siddhesvara Dham Solophok project (National)
Best State -Campaign Clean India 2012-2013 Ministry of Tourism GOI
Best State in the Country in implementation of 2012-13 Ministry of Tourism GOI
Rural Tourism Projects – 2012 (National)
Best Region to Visit in the World 2014 Lonely Planet Global
Ranked 17th out of 52 Places to go in 2017 2017 New York Times
Most Responsible Tourism Project (Joint 2017 Ministry of Tourism GOI
(DESME State Income Unit).
3.3 Tourism in the State economy
There is a lack of comprehensive data to understand the contribution of the tourism sector to the State economy. Based on the figures of tourist accommodation available and the numbers of service providers, direct employment generated by this sector can be roughly estimated to be around 12,000 to 15,000 jobs at present. At the same time, the Human Development Report also notes that the industry has 61% direct workers employed from outside the State. Some of the factors contributing to this are that a majority of hotels in the State are leased out to parties outside Sikkim who prefer to source their workers from outside the State, and that a significant proportion of the transport sector also engages employees similarly. There is also a reluctance of local youth to take up jobs offered by these service providers.
In the last decade, tourism sector in Sikkim has seen a growth rate of 10-12 %. The Gross State Domestic Product of Tourism Sector in 2016-17 has been valued at Rs 1,44,735 lakhs with total contribution of tourism sector to GSDP being 7.68%
In terms of existing capacity and strength and as per figures available, there are currently 1021 hotels, (with over 16945 rooms and 34133 beds capacity), 1119 Travel Agents, 69 Restaurants, 66 Tourist Guides and 371 homestays registered with the Department. In addition there are 47 hotels registered at project level (under construction) stage. (Carrying Capacity Survey 2017 Dept of Tourism GoS) There were 646 taxis registered under the Luxury Taxi category and 6445 under local (non luxury) taxis as on 31st March 2015 (Regional Transport Authority, MV Dept. GoS). There are also a significant number of service providers who have not come within the ambit of the official statistics due to a laxity in the registration process. The indirect employment generated by the industry is however much larger and encompasses a broad section of the population ranging from construction to supplies and various services. Clearly tourism has emerged very strongly as one of the key drivers of the State economy with potential for generating long term sustainable employment.
3.4 Strengths and challenges of tourism in Sikkim
Green and clean image - Sikkim's tag of being a peaceful State has been one of its key strengths for tourism promotion, and over the years, tourism in the State has grown at a rapid pace. Sikkim conjures an image of greenery amidst tranquility. It has notably been one of the greenest States in the country with strong policies to maintain the state's green cover and has been declared the first fully Organic Farming State in India in January 2016. To add to that, Sikkim attained the first Nirmal Rajya
status in the country, and a recent addition is also that of Gangtok, the capital city being ranked as the cleanest city in India in the Cleanliness Index, 2015 conducted by Ministry of Tourism. Sikkim has an Ecotourism Policy which will pave way for shaping tourism in protected and forest areas of the State. The ban on firecrackers and agricultural waste burning are also exemplary green initiatives that the State has undertaken.
Community participation - Sikkim has also led the way in community based tourism initiatives, and has models that showcase good practices of revenue generation and sharing. The State has been a frontrunner in promotion of homestays which ensures tourism benefits directly for communities and there are various forms of homestay tourism currently in the State. The Pokhri Sanrakshan Samiti model formed under the Lake Conservation Guidelines of the Sikkim Government that puts community at the forefront for management of wetlands that are prime tourism destinations in the state has also been very successful. Tourism stakeholders are also well organised in Sikkim and there are strong private investments in this sector which also bolsters the overall state of tourism.
Diverse tourism products - Blessed with natural attractions, Sikkim has great potential for developing its tourism around its assets such as its rich biodiversity, natural attractions of mountains, rivers, snows, etc. Coupled with this, Sikkim's history and its diversity of culture brought about by the presence of different ethnic groups in the State elevates the State's tourism value to another level. The adventure sector which has tremendous potential for attracting high value tourists in the future has been little explored till date, and can become a key strength of the State's tourism.
However, in the absence of a long term vision for tourism in the state, this sector has developed in a largely unplanned manner and has veered inadvertently towards promotion of mass tourism, and is not without challenges.
Ecological impacts - Sikkim occupies only .02 per cent of the Indian subcontinent but this tiny piece of landmass that falls in the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot harbors some of the most interesting and endemic flora and fauna that occupy all corners of the State. The high altitude areas of the State that are ecologically fragile are important habitats as well as crucial in terms of water security. Many of the State's ecologically fragile areas are subjected to large inflow of tourists which has serious environmental concerns. Vehicular pollution, disturbance to wildlife, garbage accumulation are some of the current major challenges brought about by tourism which need to be addressed. Moreover, a
major challenge is bio-piracy. Instances of smuggling of seeds and other wild products by visitors in the garb of tourists have been reported in the past which lead to violation of the National Biodiversity Act.
Connectivity and communication - Owing to its location and topography, connectivity has always remained a broad challenge for the State that has grappled with bad road conditions for many years. Tourist's feedback on their experience in Sikkim place bad road conditions foremost among their grievances. Poor communication through internet and mobile connectivity is also an issue that has reflected negatively for Sikkim's tourism.
Limited employment opportunities to locals - Capacities of local people have not been adequately strengthened to address the needs of the tourism sector. On the other hand, the willingness of local youths to be involved in this sector and creation of an enabling environment for them is a challenge that needs to be addressed. While all tourism stakeholders strongly stress on the need to generate local employment from tourism, the reality is that a large part of the tourism sector is currently run by people from outside the state, be it hotels, transport sector or travel operators.
Lack of regulations/ standards - Absence of stringent regulation and standards in the tourism service sector has been detrimental for Sikkim's tourism growth. This has also led to some negative publicity for the state, which needs to be corrected. For a state like Sikkim which is situated in a high seismic zone, enforcement of BIS guidelines for all construction becomes highly pertinent and crucial. Setting of standards in all these aspects and its compliance by all stakeholders will lead to enhanced visitor experience.
3.5 Need for a tourism policy for Sikkim
Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses growing number of new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress.
Tourism in Sikkim has come up in a big way, with the number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, continuously increasing. The domestic tourist inflow increased from 552453 in 2011 to 13,75,854 in 2017 thereby showing an increase of approximately 15.75% per annum. (Statistical Cell, Department of Tourism & CA GoS). Between 1981 and 2006, the compound annual growth rate for tourists has been calculated to be 11.37 per cent. For the same period, domestic and foreign tourist arrivals grew at an annual compound rate of 11.68 per cent and 8.28 per cent respectively. Sikkim declared tourism as an industry during the 10th Five Year plan (2002-07).
Understanding the need to have guiding policies, several attempts were made by the State Government to prepare guiding documents for shaping Sikkim's tourism through development of Tourism Master Plans. As early as 1998, when the initial tourism development was taking shape in Sikkim, the first Tourism Master Plan (1998 2011) was prepared by the State Government. This five-volume master plan clearly outlined the need for planned, inclusive growth and for targeting high value visitors. This was followed by a second Master Plan in 2010.
In 2010, a Sikkim Tourism Mission- 2015 was released by the State Government, which emphasized the need for both, ecological and economic sustainability in tourism, through promotion of quality tourism and enhanced participation of local stakeholders. As with other green policies of the State, this Tourism Mission Statement elucidated strong political will to guide Sikkim's tourism towards a sustainable future. The Sikkim Ecotourism Policy, 2011 was also developed by the State Government. It set guidelines and strategies for development of tourism around protected areas and forest areas of the State, which highlights the issues of zoning and carrying capacities in fragile areas.
However, tourism continued to develop in an arbitrary manner with various government departments such as the Department of Tourism; Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management, Rural Management and Development engaged in tourism development and facilitation but working in isolation of each other. Thus, a need was felt for a joint and collaborative approach, which would address tourism in a holistic manner through an integrated approach.
There was an urgent need, therefore, to consolidate all existing missions and plans, and together with strong participation of the tourism stakeholders develop a Policy for Sikkim Tourism. In the face of a growing and changing tourism industry, the policy shall provide guidance for bringing sustainability through inclusive growth, enhancing capacities of tourism stakeholders as well as for developing regulatory frameworks, which shall ensure quality experience for visitors to the State. At this stage of tourism development, the visitors' perspective also needs to be factored in. Increasingly people are looking for authentic and distinctive experiences. Additionally, the objective of conserving
culture and nature has gained even more importance. This requires a comprehensive guiding document in the form of a policy for shaping Sikkim's tourism sector, which also has been a long felt need in the State.
3.6 Methodology for Policy Development:
The need for a comprehensive policy was a key takeaway point from a workshop on “Strengthening Sustainable Tourism in Sikkim” organized in 2014. There was robust participation of tourism stakeholders of the state. The process of preparation of Sikkim's Tourism Policy was designed to be a participatory and inclusive process with involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. Major steps taken were:
Setting up of task force/ committee - As an outcome of the workshop, a task force led by WWF-India and ECOSS was set up by the Tourism Department to work on the policy formulation with involvement of all stakeholders.
Consultations - Several consultation workshops and one to one interviews to engage actively with various stakeholders were organised between March 2015 August, 2015. These included the travel agents, hoteliers, home-stay operators, STDC and taxi drivers. The main purpose was to understand stakeholders' perspective on tourism in Sikkim and the challenges thereof. Facilitated discussion points were captured from each workshop. These have been fed into specific sections of the policy.
Inputs from the tourists - Visitor feedback was recorded with the help of hotels and travel agents. Care was taken to cover all types of hotels so as to reach out to a wide category of visitors. The information was collated and analysed for specific inputs into the policy.
Policy reviews - Review of tourism policies of other states and countries was conducted as part of the policy drafting process. The draft National Tourism Policy was also thoroughly studied and utilized to align the State Tourism Policy wherever relevant. The study of master plans of Sikkim prepared earlier by various agencies such as the Tourism Master Plan (1997 2011) by Tata Economic Consultancy Services, Sikkim Tourism Master Plan- 2011 prepared by Master Consult Services of Singapore, 20 years Perspective Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development in Sikkim - 2002 by Horizon Industrial Consultancy Service for the Ministry of Tourism, the FEWMD's Sikkim Ecotourism Policy- 2011, Sikkim Tourism Mission - 2010 of the State Government.
Inputs were taken from within the Tourism Department on the draft framework of the policy document to provide greater clarity and seek suggestions towards finalization of the policy document.
SIKKIM TOURISM POLICY
Sikkim becomes a highly valued responsible tourism destination with tourism contributing significantly to the State economy while conserving its natural and cultural heritage
2. GUIDING PRINCIPLES
The following principles shall guide the tourism sector in Sikkim
i) Environmental Sustainability
Tourism development will not be at the cost of degradation of the environment and natural resources of the state.
ii) Cultural integrity
Tourism development will ensure appreciation, promotion and conservation of Sikkim's diverse culture.
iii) Equity, Inclusiveness & Social Justice
Opportunities and benefits of tourism shall not exclude those disadvantaged by gender, remoteness and poverty, and tourism practices shall ensure the upholding of human rights and justice.
iv) Atithi Devo Bhava
Tourism development shall focus on providing quality experiences and services for all visitors and ensure their safety and satisfaction.
In line with the need for tourism to contribute significantly to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the five main goals that the policy objectives of tourism development in Sikkim will achieve are:
Goal 1 - Develop tourism as a key sector in Sikkim's economy
The Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 has identified certain potential sectors for growth and livelihood creation, of which tourism ranks the highest. The HDR recognizes that Sikkim has a comparative advantage in tourism with its beautiful landscape, diverse flora and fauna, culture and traditions and hospitable people. Other factors that contribute to positioning Sikkim as a prime tourist destination are its peaceful environment, political stability, high literacy rate, its green policies such as organic farming and easy accessibility. Sikkim's Tourism Mission 2015 aspires to “make tourism the main livelihood of the people of Sikkim, and each and every household and individual, a skilled force for the tourism industry”. At the same time the Government of India's increased focus on the development of the North East Region has earmarked tourism as a priority area (Draft National Tourism Policy 2015). New opportunities
are emerging such as the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage through Nathula Pass, which was flagged off in 2015, the declaration of the Khangchendzonga National Park as a natural and cultural World Heritage Site, opening of new peaks and the relaxation of the permit process for the Green Lake Trek. Improved core infrastructure such as completion of the ongoing widening of National Highway 10 to Sikkim and the commissioning of the Green Field airport in Pakyong and a proposed rail link will facilitate the flow of tourists to the State. Leveraging of information technology, such as online availability of ILPs and RAPs, web-based booking portals and mobile tourism information application, high social media presence for tourist information dissemination, will make Sikkim more readily accessible to visitors. There is also a growing demand for new products like village tourism and homestays, mountain biking, paragliding, bird and butterfly-watching, all of which can generate a host of new service providers from amongst the local youth. Tourism has linkages with a wide range of allied sectors and services that can provide employment and income to locals. By developing local capacities for entrepreneurship, and service delivery and a focus on high-value nature and culture-based products, the State has the capacity to leverage these opportunities to make tourism a key sector in Sikkim's economy.
Goal 2 - Promote low impact sustainable tourism for the State
An emerging trend in tourism is the increasing demand to develop tourism in new destinations. While this can help to increase tourism development, unless carefully managed, it can also lead to irreversible negative impacts on ecologically and culturally sensitive areas. Existing ecologically fragile destinations like Tsomgo Lake, Yumthang Valley and Lake Gurudongmar already have heavy tourist traffic during the peak season. Sikkim's natural and cultural heritage has been the main attraction for tourists visiting the State, and their conservation should be the primary objective, through promotion of responsible tourism, which does not focus on maximizing number of visitors but on enhancing the visitor experiences, while generating benefits for local communities and minimizing the ecological footprint. Future tourism development in Sikkim shall focus on low-impact/high value models while better managing the mass tourism destinations. Zonation of specific areas marketed as high-value destinations to regulate numbers of visitors and activities, implemented in convergence with the State Ecotourism Policy -2011 will be vital. At the same time, existing fragile destinations shall be carefully re-examined through an understanding of 'carrying capacity' and if necessary new regulations and management systems shall be put in place. Following sustainable guidelines in infrastructure development in the tourism sector to lower the environmental impacts is also critical. While increased tourist arrivals may be desirable to a certain extent and is an indicator of Sikkim's popularity as a tourist destination, there is an optimum limit to the maximum number of tourists that the State with its small area and limited resources can handle before the negative impacts outweigh the benefits. A close watch on numbers and impacts and a definite shift from mass to high value tourism is what needs to be ultimately targeted to make tourism viable/sustainable for future generations.
Goal 3 - Make Sikkim a prime round the year destination for nature, adventure and culture based tourism within India and globally
Tourists visit Sikkim for a variety of reasons and while many of them might be notionally based around visits to natural or cultural areas, not all tourists get the opportunity to fully experience or appreciate the natural beauty or cultural heritage of the State. Although Sikkim is blessed with outstanding natural and cultural sites that are at par with the best in the world,
many of these have been reduced to simply areas for recreational tourism (e.g. Tsomgo Lake) that also end up as mass tourism destinations that are highly seasonal in demand. By focusing on supporting and promoting nature and culture-based tourism that is spread throughout the year (including monsoons and winter periods) over recreational or leisure tourism, Sikkim can attract tourists that will spend more, appreciate the natural and cultural heritage of the state, and contribute more to the local economy all year round. This can come in the form of carefully planned and implemented itineraries that include hiking, trekking, mountain biking, nature walks, bird watching, rural homestays, organic farming holidays, cultural and religious interpretation, meditation, monastery and local festival tours. Such quality experiences will also ensure repeat visits.
Goal 4 - Tourism benefits are broad based to support local, social and economic development in Sikkim and also ensure social justice.
It is important that economic benefits generated from tourism are distributed as widely and equitably as possible and that they primarily contribute to the socio-economic development of the people of Sikkim. This means that different areas and service providers all have fairly equal opportunity to benefit from tourism and not limited to more resourceful and well-connected groups from either outside the State or certain pockets of the State capturing most of the benefits. However, this should not be at the cost of service quality or the overall visitor experience. Therefore, consistent standards of service and infrastructure support need to be ensured across regions and service providers in the state. A strong focus on promotion of rural tourism to showcase Sikkim's vibrant and diverse culture shall also serve to diversify tourists from the urban pockets and seek to spread benefits accrued from the sector to more people. At the same time, opportunities and benefits of tourism shall contribute to the goal of a poverty free state and provide enhanced opportunities for women and disadvantaged groups such as school dropouts and educated unemployed. More opportunities for rural people shall also curb the rural urban migration. Tourism services shall be strictly monitored to ensure upholding human rights and justice such as the non-exploitation of children and women and ensuring fair wages.
Goal 5. All tourism infrastructure and services shall be of the best standards and quality delivering a consistent high level of satisfaction and hospitality to tourists.
Sikkim is already a sought after tourism destination, known for the hospitable nature of its people. However, with the growing number of visitors and service providers, and a high component of leased out hotels, there is increasing concern about lowering of standards and of the quality of services and infrastructure. To ensure that the tourist is assured a high level of satisfaction to encourage revisits and positive feedback, the department and industry shall work to establish standards and certification systems amongst all service providers. These shall be at par with the best of the industry and shall also confirm to the Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI) and indicators. At the same time all tourism infrastructure shall be designed for low environmental impact that confirm with green building concepts, upgraded and sustainably maintained to be of the highest standards and in conformity to STCI and its indicators. Regulatory and management guidelines in both existing mass tourism destinations and new destinations shall be effectively implemented.
4. KEY TOURISM PRODUCTS
Sikkim's main attraction is its nature and cool climate which makes it a perfect getaway for travelers. The richness of the State's diverse culture and tradition with strong bonds with nature and religion also add to the attraction. To address the policy goals of promoting cultural and natural heritage of Sikkim for developing high value low impact tourism in the State the key products are proposed as -
Conventional leisure based tourism
Nature based tourism or Ecotourism
Adventure based tourism
Culture based tourism & village homestays
Religion based tourism
MICE (Meetings, Incentive Events, Conferences and Exhibitions)
Health and Wellness tourism
Conventional Leisure based Tourism
Conventional leisure based tourism pertain to that section of tourists who come with the prime purpose of sightseeing and recreation, to enjoy Sikkim's natural scenery along with its cool climate and peaceful atmosphere. They are the casual holiday makers and currently comprise the bulk of the tourists who visit Sikkim. This form of tourism with high volumes and limited spending is the main driver of the tourism industry. However this sector has high impact on the environment and local resources in the form of high generation of waste, high consumption of energy and water, high pollution from vehicles and traffic congestion.
This form of tourism shall be encouraged but with a close watch on numbers and with a designed shift to higher value tourism with softer footprints and through improved quality of services. Such measures taken to upgrade the infrastructure and services with a resultant hike in tariff can serve as a disincentive for the unchecked rise in high volume tourism. Further this will be backed by regular carrying capacity studies to determine negative impacts and peak capacities of tourist traffic permissible in all high tourist density areas and mechanisms to ensure that the recommended capacities are not exceeded.
Nature based tourism or Ecotourism
Nature and natural scenery forms the main draw for tourists to Sikkim. According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) “Responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and which provides benefits to local communities while ensuring enriched experiences for visitors can be termed as ecotourism.” The Forest Environment and Wildlife Management Department has prepared the Sikkim Ecotourism Policy 2011 which advocates for certain strategies and guidelines for ecotourism development particularly for protected areas and also to bring consensus on the concept of ecotourism.
For serious nature lovers, Sikkim has a host of products to offer such as birding, butterfly watching, botanical and zoological excursions, nature walks and soft trekking around protected areas. Sikkim's wealth of biodiversity that include some of the most enigmatic species of flora and fauna can
be leveraged to attract researchers, students and hobbyists for high value tourism, with development of specific action plans.
Adventure based tourism
Sikkim with its stupendous mountains, gorges and valleys, glaciers, snows, lakes and rivers, forests and altitudinal and topographical diversity, has tremendous potential for development of adventure tourism which would also be in alignment with the tourism policy goals of bringing in high value tourists to the State. Some of the key adventure tourism products are trekking, mountaineering, paragliding, mountain biking, rafting/ kayaking, zip-lining. With the establishment of the Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure & Ecotourism (IHCAE) at Chemchey, there is an excellent opportunity to develop high class training and certification within the state. There is a need to have long term comprehensive planning, high quality infrastructure, encouragement of local stakeholders, improvement of standards and training with strict regulation and aggressive marketing in adventure sports. Focused efforts to improve and promote tourist traffic in routes other than the already popular ones such as the Yuksom-Dzongri-Goechela route.
Culture based tourism & village homestays
Sikkim with its plethora of ethnic communities has tremendous potential for offering tourists a multidimensional cultural experience. At the heart of the rural experience are the homestays spread across the state which provide a glimpse into the village lifestyle and culture. Village based resorts catering to the high end tourists are growing in number. Ethnic cuisine and food products, organic produce, ethnic songs and dances, traditional dresses, handicrafts, vernacular architecture, festivals, traditional medicines, folktales, are some of the items on offer in the cultural basket. There is a growing concern that rapid development and modernization is slowly eroding these cultural treasures and tourism can play a major role in its conservation. The Tourism Department's project to create over 1500 homestays in villages across the state and the State's organic mission shall support the culture and rural based tourism provided linkages are developed.
Religion based Tourism
Sikkim has wide acceptance as a place for understanding Mahayana Buddhism as practiced by the Karmakargyudpa and Nyinmapa sects and owing to the strong association it has with Guru Padmasambhava and Lhatsun Chenpo. The Nay-Sol, a religious scripture, details and describes Sikkim as a sacred landscape and is like a travel guide for location of the sacred sites in the State. Buddhism in Sikkim while retaining the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism has assumed a characteristic distinct from that of Tibet by its amalgamation with the Bon religion practiced by the Lepchas the original inhabitants of Sikkim in the pre-Buddhist period. Buddhist Monasteries and numerous places of hermitage and meditation are present in all corners of the State, some dating back nearly 300 years, offering great spiritual pull for visitors. Monasteries such as Tashiding, Pemayantgtse, Phodong, Dubdi, Tholung, Ralang and Rumtek see a constant stream of pilgrimage visitors and tourists throughout the year and especially during religious festivals. Sikkim's close association with Bhutan religiously has also drawn many visitors from the neighbouring country for religious purposes. The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology with its storehouse of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and texts and a long history of research in Tibetan Buddhism serves as an asset for the State, drawing in researchers and scholars from all across the world.
Apart from this rich religious heritage, the State Government has also developed religious monuments and religious places such as the statue of Gurupadmasambhava in Samdruptse, Tathagatha Tsal, Char Dham, etc. that are boosting Sikkim's pilgrimage tourism. Sikkim is therefore well positioned to attract pilgrims and tourists with religious interests. Char Dham or the four abodes are four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus which comprises of Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. The replicas of these four sites have been constructed in South Sikkim at Solophok along with a main temple having the statue of Lord Shiva making it a unique Pilgrim Centre which bagged the 'Most Innovative and Unique Tourism Project' from Ministry of Tourism in 2012.
In recent years Sikkim has become an important destination for the holding of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions. Many hotels have upgraded or planned their infrastructure to include proper conference hall venues with the necessary equipments to cater to the demand for this fast growing form of tourism. Sikkim's peaceful atmosphere, salubrious climate and numerous cultural and natural attractions forms the perfect combination for institutions and companies to hold their MICE events in the state. MICE tourism also offers an excellent product to tide over the seasonality of tourism. It can also be linked with other tourism products on offer as part of the pre-/post leisure activity for such packages. Current capacity for hosting MICE events is very limited, with very few venues big enough to hold large events indeed some of these belong to the Government. Quality of the infrastructure and supporting equipment generally needs improvement. Current customers comprise mainly the Government, local companies and institutions, though the number of companies and organizations from outside holding events in Sikkim is slowly growing. There is a strong need to build more high quality and larger MICE infrastructure to attract the corporate world.
Health and wellness