Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu

The government waived the sustainable development fee (SDF) for 24-hour visitors in border towns starting April 14 this year. However, hoteliers in Gelephu are yet to enjoy the returns.

Many hoteliers Kuensel talked to said guests staying over at hotels have not seen the rise they expected while some hotels claim it has decreased instead.

Owner of Gold Fish Resort, Sushma Lama said that not a single tourist stayed in her hotel after April 14. “Only working customers come that is also very rare. I think they are not interested.”

She said that more tourists from faraway places in India would visit if the SDF waiver is extended for more days.

“If they have to come from Guwahati, it would take time to reach here. They would not get enough leisure time after reaching here,” she said.

Beydu Maya, who runs the Lama Residency, said that the coronavirus pandemic and introduction of SDF have thrown the hotel business into crisis. “The impact of the waiver is yet to be felt.”

“There has been no booking from the regional tourists and the hotel occupancy remains low. A few number of guests used to come for food even with the SDF in place,” she said.

With more hotels in Gelephu and more people losing abroad, Beydu Maya said, “In fact, we are losing both our staff and customers. A few tourists arriving in the country are not able to fill up hotels.”

According to the owner of Lhaazaay Suites, Phurpa Lhamo, her Indian business partner told her some tourists visiting the country for a longer duration had to exit the country after 24 hours and enter back which is a big hassle for them.

“I think most tourists come on family holidays which require longer duration. Short duration is inconvenient for tourists,” she said.

Kado, the owner of Hotel Ree Kyi Bu, said, the SDF waiver decision would hardly benefit the hotel business. “Bringing hotel business to the normal would take time due to lack of awareness. Many still think we impose the SDF.”

Hoteliers say that the government needs to focus and take a robust approach to the sustainability of their hotel business and needs to do much more to reap the benefits of the SDF waiver.

Several reforms have been initiated in recent years and many hoteliers, following the tourism department’s assessment, are demonstrating innovations in moving towards effective service delivery and business sustainability.

However, the overall returns to spending in terms of policy reform activities, infrastructure development, and awareness creation have not reached their potential.