Phurpa Lhamo

Even as tourists have resumed to come, three stars and budget hotel (blue poppy) owners are skeptic that the business would return to its old pace.

Hoteliers across the country have suffered major losses. Many are using their hotels as a quarantine facility to keep it running.

According to a hotel owner in Phuentsholing, he hadn’t received a single guest this year. “There are only civil servants in Phuentsholing.”

He said they relied on regional tourists before.

Most hoteliers have also expressed their concern over the introduction of the sustainable development fee (SDF).

According to the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020, tourists from the region visiting Bhutan would have to pay Nu 1,200 per night per person as SDF.

A hotel owner, Ugyen Dorji, said that when the SDF was discussed earlier, tour agents in India told him it had discouraged regional tourists visiting Bhutan.

He said that about 80 percent of his guests were tourists, of which almost 70 percent were regional tourists.

Further, he said that even if the border gates opened, it will take about a year to get back to business because of the SDF and other circumstances.

Bhutan Tourism Monitor 2019 recorded 315,599 tourists visiting the country in 2019.

The report also showed that of the total 54.71 percent had travelled by land and remaining 45.29 percent by air.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan chairman Sonam Wangchuk said that of those who travelled by road, most could have entered through Phuentsholing gate.

He added that blue poppy and three stars hotel owners who were mostly dependent on regional tourists would take about two years to return to a stable business.

Sonam Wangchuk said that currently, every individual travelling from India irrespective of age would have to pay the SDF of Nu 1,200.

He added that Indian tourists travelled with family and had at least four individuals in the group. “So if they stay here for five nights with five individuals, they will be paying about Nu 30,000 just for the SDF.”

Understanding the concern, HRAB also approached the government to defer imposing the SDF.

Sonam Wangchuk said that they were yet to receive a response.

He added that the HRAB, Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators, and Guide Association of Bhutan also approached the Speaker last year with regard to SDF.

“But it wasn’t accepted as the parliament agenda was already decided.”

While the blue poppy and three stars hotels have seen little business this year, a hotel owner in Wangdue said that opening the border gates might help business. “Business is all-time low right now. There is news about the Jaigon border opening. Let’s hope it brings us business.”