Choki Wangmo | Gelephu
With the opening of the border gate after long Covid years, life has returned to some kind of normality but Gelephu Town still wears a deserted look 20 days after the country opened the borders again.
Businesses are yet to pick up. Hospitality industry is the most affected sector.
According to business owners in the town, there was a surge in hotel construction during the Covid-19 times as there was increasing demand for quarantine facilities in the border town. Currently, these hotels are locked away as they have not been able to generate income for rent and staff salaries.
Gelephu today is a town full of hotels; there are more than 50 hotels.
A hotelier, Dotela, who had been in the hospitality industry for more than a decade, said that new hotels in the town couldn’t operate due to a lack of customers.
“Indian visitors refuse to stay the night in the town as they have to pay a sustainable development (SDF) fee of Nu 1,200,” he said, adding that daily visitors from across the border increased in the earlier stage of reopening.
The window of entry and exit for Indian visitors, he said, was short too.
The owner of Khamsang hotel said that more than incoming visitors, a greater number of Bhutanese are visiting the Indian towns.
Another hotelier, Rinzin Dorji, is struggling to make monthly rent from his business.
“Our businesses will never bounce back to the pre-Covid times. At least, I don’t have loans to repay,” he said.
He also said that Indian visitors are not keen on staying for the night due to the SDF. Some, he said, couldn’t enter the town due to permit issues.
However, Binod Pradhan, a hotelier, said that his business has improved. Day visitors from across the border have increased.
“We do not get many customers as the number of hotels in the town has increased drastically during the pandemic,” he said.
There were only about 35 hotels in the past.
On October 10, 548 foreign visitors entered the country from Gelephu, including Indian casual visitors, foreign and day workers, and tourists. A total of 893 Bhutanese, including the inter-dzongkhag travellers, were recorded at the border.
Bhutanese visit the Indian town of Dhatgari on Thursdays and Sundays.