SYSTEM NON-FUNCTIONAL SINCE 7 DECEMBER INCONVENIENCES TOURISTS IN PEAK SEASON
By bappaditya paul
While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is spending crores of rupees to promote ‘Brand Bengal’ and her officials are attending world tourism marts to attract tourists to the state, the online booking system of West Bengal Tourism is lying defunct for over 15 days now.
Curiously, this has happened at the peak of the tourist season when both domestic and international tourists prefer to visit Bengal to attend the famous Poush Mela in Santiniketan or for a year-end holiday in the Sunderbans, Darjeeling or the Dooars. With the Tourism Department’s online booking facility being down, it means a brisk business for private tour operators and accommodation owners, albeit at higher cost for the tourists.
West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) has around 25 lodges at different tourist places in the state; besides this, it operates on hire another 15 lodges belonging to the Forest Department.Beginning 2008, bookings for these lodges were made available online on http://www.westbengaltourism.gov.in and app.westbengaltourism.gov.in ~ the two official websites.
But since 7 December, the online booking system has gone out-of-order. While app.westbengaltourism.gov.in does not open at all; on clicking the Online Booking link on http://www.westbengaltourism.gov.in, a pop-up displays that the “Online booking system is not available for technical fault” and asks the visitor to send a mail to email@example.com, instead.
This means a reduced transparency as regards the availability of accommodation in a WBTDC lodge and a prospective tourist is compelled to accept whatever a booking clerk tells him/her. In the online booking system, the occupancy status of lodges were open to everyone on a real time basis along with the information about tariff and also had the advantage of online payment from any corner of the world.
“For a fortnight now, I am trying to book a room in WBTDC lodge at Santiketan for an American professor. But with the West Bengal Tourism’s online booking system down, I have not been able to do so yet and I am embarrassed,” said Mr Shyamal Chowdhury from Seattle, USA, in an e-mail.
Mr Bhishmadeb Dasgupta, managing director of WBTDC, said he, too, was being flooded with several complaints from prospective tourists. “The problem is that the stored data relating to advance bookings of our lodges crashed on 7 December, affecting the online booking mechanism. Over the past few days our website developer/manager Price Water Coopers (PWC) was trying to retrieve the data but the attempt has failed. We are now collecting the advance booking info from our lodges and these will be fed into the system manually,” Mr Dasgupta said. “We are trying to complete the task by Monday.”
But it is astonishing that the authorities did not keep a back-up mechanism ready for the two important websites that handle all tourist bookings for Bengal. A source said that PWC had last year recommended a hardware upgrade for a local server on which the websites are hosted so to avert a possible crash but WBTDC officials chose to ignore the advice.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 22 December 2013 under a different headline.)