Tourism: Hotels, resorts and guesthouse owners in Bumthang did not see many tourists this year.

The fall in tourists is attributed to the poor road conditions between Thimphu and Bumthang due to the ongoing widening of the East-West Highway.

Many reservations were cancelled as the tourists could not travel to Bumthang. It was pointed out that many tourists returned to Thimphu half way to Bumthang due to landslides and poor roads conditions.

The proprietor of River Lodge and the former president of the Bumthang hotel association, Pema Dawa, said the number of tourists coming to Bumthang dropped this year. He usually gets around 300 tourists during the Tamzhing Phalachoedpa festival that happens in October. He got only 70 tourists this year.

Pema Dawa said Bumthang receives around 2,000 tourists every year during this festival. He estimates that barely 500 came this year. “Usually, tourists travel to Bumthang following the Thimphu tsechu from October 11 and stay until October 16,” he said.

However, this year the road was blocked at Thumangdra in Trongsa following heavy rain from October 11 to October 13. Even flights to Bathpalathang airport were cancelled during this time.

Pema Dawa said tourist arrivals improved during the Jambay Lhakhang Drub. “It was almost like usual as the roads turned dry by then,” he said. Occupancy for all kinds commercial lodging was close to 100 percent.

Some tourists even had to put up in tents as they could not get rooms.

“Those who come to Bhutan are mostly the elderly and they can’t bear the bumpy journey,” he said. Some could not even move around for a few days after reaching Bumthang, he added.

The Swiss guesthouse also saw less guests this year.

“Usually our 26-room guesthouse is full during the three-day Tamzhing Phalachodpa but there were only six tourists this year,” an employee of the guesthouse said. Some tourists who were supposed to stay three days in Bumthang could do so for only a night as they had to spend other days waiting for roadblocks to be cleared.

Proprietor of hotel Jakar View and the chairman of the Hotel Association of Bumthang, Tandin Dorji, attributed the decrease of tourists in Bumthang this year to bad road conditions between Thimphu and Bumthang, the earthquake in Nepal and the political problems in Thailand.

He said hotels in Bumthang suffered during the first half of the tourist season but did well in the second half. For instance, some 40 percent of reservations were cancelled in the first half, but the number of visiting tourists picked up in the second half. “ However the overall number dropped,” he said.

He said they approached the Prime Minister requesting for help in keeping the road open during the tourist seasons. In keeping with Lyonchoen’s instructions, the road was improved but unavoidable landslides along the highway still occurred.

He said hotels might not face such problems in 2017 as there will be no fresh cuttings along the highway. “The work progress is also good till date,” he added.

However, some hoteliers are still worried about facing the same situation in 2017. “Given this situation, we are skeptical about our business next year,” a hotelier said.

Wangdicholing resort’s proprietor, Phuntsho, said his business was not affected despite 18 of his guests returning to Thimphu from Trongsa and seven more returning from Wangdue. He added that while there are problems associated with the widening of the East-West Highway, the highway has to be widened for a better future.

There are 45 hotels, guesthouses, resorts and lodges in Bumthang today.

Nima Wangdi | Chamkhar