Opening a visa-processing center in Samdrupjongkhar is one of the proposals to the govt.

Arrival: Hoteliers in Trashigang are crying for urgent interventions from the government to boost tourism in eastern Bhutan.

Of the 133,480 regional and international tourists that visited Bhutan last year, only 3.6 percent or 4,805 tourists visited the east, records show.

Hoteliers attributed the low number to suspension of flights at the Yonphula Airport, which is undergoing renovation works. The on-going widening works of the Thimphu – Trashigang highway has also left most tour operators from promoting east as a tourist destination.

Manager of Druk Deodjung Resort, Jambay Yuden said the lack of a smooth ride to the east has a major impact on tourist arrivals.

“Government should first provide better accessibility to the east,” she said. “Tourists would then be able to make their trips faster and without much hassle.”

Without an airport, she added that tourists, who are mostly elders, fall sick on road because of the numerous roadblocks and absence of road amenities like cafeterias and toilets along the highway.

“We had also proposed the government to develop road amenities on a cost sharing basis but nothing has come of it so far,” she said.

With 75 rooms, the occupancy rate of Druk Doedjung resort during peak seasons is far from average.

Proprietor of Lingkhar Lodge, Deki Peldon said that although the number of tourists visiting the lodge is increasing, numbers would be better with right interventions from the stakeholders. But she disagrees with the reasons slated by tour operators.

“The less number of tourist arrivals might not be because of roads since roads in the west and central regions are also being widened,” she said. “However, faster development of road amenities in the east is where the government should focus on.”

Deki Peldon said good accessibility to the east would mean seeing more Asian tourists in the region. “Japanese and Chinese tourists normally stay for short durations. So most prefer to return from Bumthang because they don’t have time,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the long run, hoteliers are lobbying for the government to open direct international flights to Yonphula from places like Guwahati, Bagdogra and Kolkata. Should it not come through soon, another way forward could be the opening of a visa-processing center for the eastern region at Samdrupjongkhar.

“There are visa-processing centers at Phuentsholing and Paro but not in Samdrupjongkhar or Gelephu,” a hotelier said. “This has led to an unbalanced growth of tourism sector in terms of access to facilities.”

Hoteliers added that establishing a branch office of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) at Samdrupjongkhar would help in improving the quality and services of tourist hotels in the east.

“If government is to promote tourism in the east then, bringing down the higher tariff to encourage more arrivals could be the ultimate answer,” another hotelier said. “Otherwise, the target to increase arrivals in the east by 20 percent within the current plan might not materialize.”

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang