Hotel owners see a drastic drop in patronage since the Ura-Nangar road opened

Hospitality: Years ago, when the Ura-Nangar bypass road was planned, people in Chamkhar town, Bumthang’s business hub, expressed concerns that their businesses would be affected.  The road, they felt would isolate the town.

The 32-km bypass is completed, although not officially opened or inaugurated.  Distance between Bumthang and Mongar has been cut by 30km and vehicles, small and big, except passenger buses, prefer the shorter route, avoiding the meandering road to Shaytongla.

The fear has come true.  With most motorists taking the bypass, business has gone down, claim business people in Chamkhar town.

“The number of local guests has plummeted drastically since 2013,” owner of Kaila Guest House, Kaila, said.  The guesthouse close to the town sees nine to 10 guests every day, according to the proprietor. “Now sometimes we have to do without guests for days.”

As a stopover town, business in Chamkhar depended on travellers, mostly civil servants, either travelling to Thimphu or eastern dzongkhags from the capital, or returning from official tours or vacations.  Passenger buses halt at Chamkhar town.

But after the bypass road came into existence, except for buses, very few travellers from either side of the highway use the old route cutting through the heart of Bumthang.

“Unless people have to come here genuinely, most of the cars now take the bypass road,” Hotelier Sonam Lhamo said. “The only customers left for hoteliers in Chamkhar are bus passengers.”

Dorji of Tashicholing Hotel said that the number of people frequenting Chamkhar en-route to east and west has definitely gone down.  He said that, before the construction of the bypass, there were so many cars in Chamkhar that even parking became a problem.

Himalayan Pizza owner, Tshering, said that, save of those around the bus parking, most of the hoteliers are going empty, particularly in summer.

Some hotels in Gangrithang, across Chamkhar bridge, even had to close, while those still in the business are seeing a drastic decline in customers.

Meanwhile, the business community is expecting worse.  Tshering said the business in Chamkhar is going to see worse if the buses start staying in Nangar and Ura, where structures are already being readied now.

“The only way the business community can think of living off the business in Chamkhar is the hope that the authorities will ask the buses to stop here,” Tshering said.

Dzongrab Sonam Tshering, however, said that the impact from the bypass road would be marginal on the business in Bumthang as whole.

“Because with a domestic airport, tourism, particularly in Bumthang, is expected to boom in future,” Sonam Tshering said, adding that, as a spiritual heartland, business should be able to sustain through pilgrimage too.

The dzongkhag is also making plans to further expand tourism in Bumthang.

By Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang