Jigmi Wangdi

Bajo town in Wangdue seems eerily quiet with more cars parked along the roads than people strolling along the streets.

The town, which sees hardly any foreign or Indian tourists these days, has more business establishments than the local residents it accommodates.

Hoteliers have felt the brunt of this emptiness as the two-star hotels cannot receive foreign guests.

Karma owns a two-star hotel at Bajo and expresses his concerns about how the hotel business has not picked up since the pandemic. The hotel, which barely survives on the income from the locals and the conference hall, struggles to stay afloat.

Karma said that they couldn’t afford to employ any staff and pay back the loan for the hotel. Moreover, paying business and sales tax has become a challenge for the struggling hotel.

“We planned to lease out the hotel once. But the new owners would not have taken care of the furniture and other utilities properly”, Karma said. The hotel only gets around 25 guests in a good month with no sign of the industry bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels.

When the new hotel policy was made to categorise hotels in Bajo town and beyond, the lower-rated two-star hotels were not consulted, nor were their voices heard. The policy allowed foreign guests to stay only in hotels rated three stars and above. The consequences of this decision for the lower-rated hotels have been grave.

“Before the pandemic, it was regular of us to get Indian tourists. Now there is hardly anyone who comes,” said Karma.

A few months ago, some foreign tourists wanted to stay in his hotel, but their request was denied due to the hotel’s two-star rating. The guests were informed that they would be required to show a receipt from a three-star and above hotel.

Karma often travels to Thimphu with other hoteliers to meet with relevant agencies and bring up their issues. However, this has not been possible so far.

Hope lingers that some changes in the policy will be made, and tourists will be allowed to stay in hotels of their choice. Until then, Karma keeps his hotel running with the help of his wife and brother, clinging to the hope that a change will come soon.