Arrivals, according to HAB, have in fact gone down since the domestic air service started

Tourism: A domestic airport in Bumthang might have made travel convenient and comfortable for both tourists and locals, but the introduction of flights have had only a negligible impact on increasing the inflow of tourist, according to the Hotel Association of Bumthang (HAB).

HAB Chairman, Pema Dawa said Bumthang hasn’t seen much increase in the number of tourist arrivals even after the opening of the domestic airport.

The number of tourist arrivals has decreased rather since 2013, he said.

According to stats maintained by HAB, the number of tourist arrivals spiraled to 35,550 in 2012 from just 21,000 in 2011. That however dropped to 25,970 in 2013, which only decreased further in 2014 to 24,100.

“The number would have gone even further down had it not been for the international ethnobiology congress in June,” Pema Dawa said.

This year, hotels and resort owners are hoping for better turn up with arrivals already at 3,490 by March until the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25.

“Some bookings are already canceled because of earthquake in Nepal,” Yoezerling Lodge proprietor, Dechen Dorji said.

This year, Pema Dawa however hopes the arrivals to be better than last year’s going by the booking in September and October. Owner of Kaila Guesthouse, Kaila also said that the number of visitors to his hotel has decreased marginally since 2013.

“The airport hasn’t really made much difference although it can improve in future because most of the guests in my hotels come by road,” Kaila said.

The hoteliers therefore attributed the poor tourist arrivals to bad condition of east-west highway because of the road widening.

“Since most of the tourists are elderly people, they often gets ill from the day-long weary travel,” Pema Dawa said.  “Why wouldn’t the elderly tourists get ill when locals are frustrated by the blockades and physical discomfort caused by the poor condition of road?”

The other factor affecting tourist arrivals is attributed to the lack of interests from travel agents to bring tourist to eastern and central Bhutan for profit maximisation.

“The number of tourist arrivals in Bumthang is shrinking despite an overall increase in arrivals because travel agents refuse to bring them beyond Wangduephodrang and Punakha to cut down cost,” Pema Dawa said.

For instance, only 110 Thai tourists of 10,000 visiting the country visited Bumthang in 2014.

“If that’s what Bumthang received, I am sure Mongar and Trashigang wouldn’t have received much,” Pema Dawa said, adding it would be even fewer in eastern Bhutan.

The hoteliers also attribute the decreasing tourist arrivals to inconsistency of flights.

For instance, Thai tourist arrivals in 2014 was affected because of suspension of flights from June-August.

“Quite a number of bookings from January-February got cancelled when the flights were lifted for winter break and for flight routine maintenance from mid March-February,” Kaila said.

The association has urged the government to improve the frequency and consistency of flights, while the need to improve the road conditions were also expressed.

By Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang