Covid-19 sends homestay out of business in Phobjikha valley

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Every October over 400 black-necked cranes (BNC) gather in Phobji and Gangtey valley. With the birds come tourists.

After the cranes leave in March, many visit the valley and pay a visit to Karma, the injured crane.

According to Gangtey gup Gyeltshen, during peak season (winter), the homestays are occupied mostly by foreign tourists. The rest of the year they cater to more Bhutanese tourists.

However, for over two months, guests ceased and income has reached an all-time low for over 30 homestay owners in the valley.

The valley was closed to visitors in mid-May.

This was after a local complained that there were Bhutanese visitors who came to the valley during quarantine time, said Gyeltshen.

“Although there were Bhutanese who wanted to spend some time in the valley, the homestay owners declined.”

Today, the valley is closed to visitors who come for the nearby border area.

Gyeltshen said that because the valley was popular among tourists, it was wise to take such preventive measures.

“But I think by the end of this month, we would be able to open the valley to visitors.”

A homestay owner, Yangka, said that in a year, he earned more than Nu 100,000.

“We also have seen an increase in regional tourists about a year ago. Income has increased over the years.”

Today, a foreign national tourist is charged Nu 800 per night excluding meals. Breakfast is charged Nu 250 and Nu 350 for lunch and dinner. This is decreased to Nu 150 for breakfast and Nu 250 for lunch and dinner for Bhutanese tourists.

Today, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, homestay owners have resorted to farming.

Yangka said that unlike hoteliers, homestay owners owned land and had an alternative to the homestay business.

“I have given a majority of my land for sharecropping. I have cultivated potatoes in around 30 decimals. I am worried but that’s the best I can do.”

Although farmers in Gangtey have resorted to farming, for homestay owners in Phobji it is not a major problem.

In Phobjikha around 12 homestays are in Khemdo chiwog, around 8km away from Gangtey.

Khemdo tshogpa Tshering Dorji said that because the homestays were far, homestays in Gangtey took a majority of its tourists.

“The pandemic has little effect on the business in Phobji.”

The homestays in Phobji had raised concerns about not getting enough guests because of the distance.

Similarly, the business has slowed for around 20 homestays in Laya, Gasa. However, people have resorted to activities such as cordyceps collection and transporting ration for the residents of Lunana.

“We have a lot of tourists throughout the year, who choose to camp during their stay in Laya,” said Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering. There are over 260 households in Laya.

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