Chhimi Dema  

After the international borders opened more than two years of the pandemic, Phobjikha valley is once again becoming a getaway destination.

With local and international guests visiting the valley often, homestay owners whose second source of income is catering to visitors are looking forward to a profitable business this year.

Passang Zam, 28, owns a homestay at Gangtey, Wangdue and receives more than 20 guests a month.

Before the pandemic, she used to receive about 50 guests including international tourists. She also got reservations in November from international guests. She expects her homestay business to improve now that the country’s border has been opened and Covid-19 restrictions are at ease. “Business struggled during the pandemic. But now, I am positive about the days ahead.”

Her family has been running the homestay for the past 14 years and it has helped her family’s economy.

“The homestay helps us meet other expenses such as money for the maintenance of the house and spend on our children’s education,” Passang Zam said.

Farmers of Gangtey and Phobjikha grow potatoes as their cash crop. Before, sheep rearing was another source of income which today has decreased.   

Passang Zam said that running a homestay ensures that they have an alternative source of income when potato production is poor.

According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s tourism establishment census report, there are 134 village homestays in the country.

The highest number of village homestays was found in Gasa followed by Haa, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Trashiyangtse.

Dawa Penjor, a homestay owner at Gangtey, said that the number of guests visiting his homestay was increasing compared to two years ago. He receives 20 to 30 guests a month today.

While many owners hope the business will become profitable, some are worried that the new Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) might discourage tourists from visiting the country.

Karma, 47, said that most guests he received so far were those who paid the old SDF. “With the new SDF, guests might prefer to stay in hotels than homestays or not visit the country,” he said.

Tourists visiting the country will have to pay USD 200 per night. This was an increase of USD 135 from the previous SDF of USD 65 for a night.