KP Sharma 

Handicraft shops in the country are struggling to keep their business afloat.

Since the opening of the international border on September 23, only 16,520 international visitors or tourists have visited Bhutan.

Without a large influx of tourists, handicraft shops are virtually out of business.

According to Chorten Dorji, executive director of the Handicraft Association of Bhutan, the indigenous handicraft industry is experiencing the biggest hurdle.

“Some shops have already closed and a few are trying to sustain with a very low income,” Chorten Dorji said.

The Bhutanese handicraft sector is largely dependent on the import of handicraft items from neighboring countries like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

He said that handicraft shops should try to diversify products and enhance innovation to improve the quality. “Upgrading the skills and innovation has been prioritised.”

But then, the lack of business for handicraft shops is principally because of fewer international tourists.

Cheki Dorji of Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) said that there is a need to promote indigenous crafts by discouraging imports. “We are in touch with relevant agencies like the Department of Revenue and Customs to limit the import of handicraft items.”

According to him, one way to limit the import is through tax. He said that when imported items dominate the market, it discourages local artists.

Bhutanese do not buy locally-produced handicraft items because of a huge difference in the price of the products. The production of handicraft items is labour-intensive and, so, costly in Bhutan.

Deki, a handicraft dealer in Thimphu, said that handicraft shops are not getting business as they did before Covid-19 hit the country.

Options, therefore?

Most handicraft shops have taken up tailoring and, sometimes, even tailoring can be a cumbersome engagement when there are no buyers.

 “We would be grateful if the agencies concerned helped us explore the market,” said Namgay, a handicraft dealer in Thimphu.

Dechen, a handicraft dealer, said that tourists are not interested in products that are not made locally. “Only people travelling to Australia or to other countries and some offices come to buy gifts from our shops.”