Tourists arrivals are expected to further decline as a result of the road widening works

Tourism: Despite the government’s decision to re-schedule road widening works at night for the convenience of travellers, tourist arrivals in Bumthang fell to a record low of 15,482 in 2015 according to the Hotel Association of Bumthang (HAB).

This year the number of tourist arrivals dropped by 8,618 from last year’s 24,100. Only 15,482 visited Bumthang this year, the lowest since 2011, when 21,000 tourist vistors were recorded.

“The number of tourist arrivals decreased and many hotels remained unoccupied even during the peak season from September-November,” HAB chairman, Pema Dawa said.

It is currently the peak season in Bumthang because of a string of tshechus in Jambay Lhakhang, Tamzhing and Jakar.

The Jambay Lhakhang drub attracts the highest number of tourists because it is one of the oldest tshechus in the dzongkhag and offers a unique mask dance, the tercham (naked dance).

“Every hotel remained occupied during Jambay Lhakhang drub even during the lowest of arrivals in the past but this year many hotels had no guests,” Pema Dawa said.

With the Tourism Council of Bhutan reporting a decrease in tourists in the country during the fall peak season, arrivals in Bumthang deceased by 2,720 guests from 2014. During the fall season, 10,440 tourists visited the country in 2014 compared to only 8,520 in 2015.

This year’s arrivals in November numbered only 2,120 against 6,120 in 2014. Phuntsho hotel, which was fully booked for five days last year during the Jambay Lhakhang drub had guests only for three days this year.

“The number of arrivals was lesser compared to last year during the drub,” Phuntsho hotel proprietor, Dorji Wangmo said.

While overall drop in the country also affected arrivals, the hoteliers attributed the drastic decline of 43 percent to the bad road conditions as a result of road widening works and an erratic Drukair flight schedule.

Hotel home proprietor, Pema Khandu said the number of guests cancelled reservations during the months of October and November. The hotel lost three groups of tourists consisting of 45 people costing the hotel between Nu 0.6-0.7M.

“Often the travel agents had to cancel trips to Bumthang with the car owners refusing to come here because of bad road conditions,” Pema Khandu said, adding the travel agents also balk at selling the east of the country as a destination because of having to pay exorbitant fares for hiring vehicles.

Hoteliers also blame unreliable flights affecting tourist arrivals. They said most travel agents plan their trips only until Phobjikha or Wangduephodrang.

Arrivals in the other peak season between March-April, which usually consists of cultural tour, bird watching, botanical and ecological and biking, also saw a decrease compared to previous years.

For instance, in 2014 around 6,600 visited Bumthang against 4,851 between April and March this year. In April only 1,491 tourists arrived in the dzongkhag compared to 3,100 in 2014, which the hoteliers attributed to the earthquake in Nepal.

“The earthquake in Nepal affected the tourist arrivals here because most of the guests enter Bhutan through Nepal,” Pema Dawa said.

This year the number of arrivals between May-August also fell drastically. There were only 1,981 vistors against 6,030 in 2014. Farmhouses in Tang, Jakar, Chokhotoe, Jambay Lhakhang and Tamzhing were also affected.

As a result some hotels are already struggling to stay afloat in the business with some unable to repay loans and even employees.

Hoteliers fear business would further deteriorate in 2016 until the road widening works are completed. “I am worried in 2016 arrivals might decrease further because the poor road conditions have been troublesome and weary for guests and agents,” Pema Khandu said.

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang