Neten Dorji | Trashigang

By this time, thousands of tourists would have started visiting the eastern region to watch birds and witness cultural events through Samdrupjongkhar gate while several more were on their way to enter eastern Bhutan.

Spring is the peak tourist season in the east. However, the scenario is different today.

Hotels have no guests empty and are closed.

Dejung and Lingkhar resorts have not seen good number tourists.

Dejung’s, Kuenga, who is also chairman of the hotel association of eastern Bhutan, said that more than seven months after the border gate opened and the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) started for tourists, hotel business is still struggling to make a comeback.

“About 500 tourists have cancelled their bookings, “said Kuenga.

Hoteliers said that the entry and exit points in Samdrupjongkhar provide flexibility for tourists like mountain bikers to enter from the east or exist from the west.

“We are really disheartened that many tourist groups wanting to enter from Samdrupjongkhar have been denied visas by the government,” said a hotelier.

The Hotel Association of Eastern Bhutan has written several letters to the government.

“We have written several letters to the prime minister, but there has not been any response so far,” said Kuenga. “Hotel and hospitality business in eastern Bhutan are in a dire condition and are unable to pay for the staff and maintain the hotel.”

Tandin Dorji, a Wangchuk hotel manager in Mongar, said that only 100 tourists visited his hotel after the border was opened.

He said that the exemption of SDF for Eastern Bhutan for two to three years would boost the tourism industry in the east. “It is not that we want full exemption like SDF 65 dollars in the past, but for a certain period will encourage more tourists in the east.”

Not only hoteliers, but the tour companies who are promoting eastern dzongkhags, are also experiencing cancellations of tour packages.

A tour operator, Chencho Dorji, said that restrictions of entry and exit points have led to cancellations of tour packages.

“I diverted about 20 tourists to visit eastern dzongkhags bearing all expenses,” said Chencho Dorji. “Sometimes we are not favoured by weather  to send tourists in the east, which is an unnecessary problem for tourists.”

An official from the Department of Tourism (DoT) said that the department is well aware of the problems. “ We are working closely with the government to lift restrictions to open entry and exit points from Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar.”