Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu

A growing number of visitors, after the government waived off the sustainable development fee for casual visitors, has helped the entertainment business in Gelephu.

Proprietors said they are seeing an encouraging number of visitors from across the border, from as far as Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar in Assam besides Dadgari, the small town near the Bhutan gate.

The government removed the SDF for tourists visiting the border towns of Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar for up to 24 hours. The waiver is for a year and came into effect on April 14.

Owners of Karaoke bars and nightclubs in Gelephu said half of their customers are Indians and the number has increased manifold since the SDF was waived helping them sustain their businesses. Jamyang Choden, who runs the K. Wang Karaoke, receives at least 20 to 30 Indian customers every night during weekdays and not less than 50 on weekends.

A nightclub owner said that more Indians visit the town in the evening and night and spend time in almost all entertainment establishments.

Security officials at the border gate said some visitors would exit after 24 hours and re-enter to spend more time. “Some visitors leave the country only in the morning after spending their entire night in the karaoke and nightclubs,” he said.

However, while the entertainment industry has been seeing an increasing number of Indian customers, the hotel businesses have not been able to reap benefits from the SDF waiver.

Hoteliers claim that there have been no bookings even after the removal of the SDF.  “Hotels located outside the town did not benefit much,” said another hotelier, pointing to the unfamiliar location of their business establishments compared to those in the town.

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) in April initiated a promotional tour to Northeast India for some selected hoteliers of the bordering towns, but it has not resulted in more tourists, at least for now.