There is a misconception, say hoteliers

Younten Tshedup

From the quality of food and the misconception that hoteliers who volunteered to offer their property as quarantine facilities are making profits, hoteliers are at the receiving end of social media critics.

With pictures of food served at different quarantine centres circulating online, people are alleging hoteliers of compromising with the menu and making profit out of it.

This, according to hoteliers is untrue.

A Thimphu hotelier explained that the government has allocated a specific budget to prepare meals for different hotels based on the standard of the hotel. The government has prepared a set of menu that is to be served uniformly across all quarantine centres.

According to the approved standard rates of the government, the budget approved for a budget hotel is Nu 1,000 per person per day. A three-star hotel is given Nu 1,200 while a four-star hotel has to prepare the menu at Nu 1,500.

Hotels have to include three meals of specified menu within the specified budget.

The budget does not include room charges.

A normal stay in a three-star hotel would cost any where between Nu 3,500 to Nu 6,000 a day. This is excluding the meals, which would normally cost around Nu 2,000 per person.

The hotelier said that while the government has agreed to pay for the food and other utilites, there are other expenses such as staff salary, which differs with the hotel standards.

She said that the pick-and-drop services for the hotel staff, the increasing commodity prices and other incidental charges are not included in the government’s budget.

“The amount is hardly enough for a breakeven, let alone make profit from it,” she said.    

On the menu, another Thimphu hotelier said his chef is finding it difficult to cook vegetarian meals thrice a day for 21 days. “Usually, our chef prepares one or two vegetarian items a day,” he said, adding that the lack of choice for vegetables is also adding to the problem.

The aftermath 

Despite knowing the risks of converting hotels into a quarantine facility, hoteliers across the country have come together in solidarity to show their support to the government in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

One of them said that while health workers have been in the frontline battling the disease, hoteliers and their staff were also equally involved. “Despite the limited information and scare from the virus, hotel staff are working tirelessly, everyday. They don’t even have all the safety gears.”

Many hoteliers shared that turning a hotel into a quarantine centre also invited social stigma from local residents as well as their international partners.

“Knowing that my hotel was used as a quarantine facility, many would be hesitant to use our services,” said one Thimphu hotelier. “Once this information is out, our international partners would also come to know about it. Knowing this, they would always have some kind of fear in using our services in the future.”

She said that because of this reason, many high-end hotels have not come forward to make similar contributions. “These are the hotels that get the benefits from government in the form of organising official conferences and mega-events. But when the government is in need, it is hoteliers like us who come forward.”

And then there are cases of vandalism in the quarantine facilities. Some hoteliers shared that many of the their furniture including television sets, bathroom fixtures and celling were damaged when a person left the facility.

The negative image the hoteliers have been tainted with has discouraged many from coming forward, she said.

“I’m better off not giving my hotel as a quarantine facility. I would rather lock my hotel and engage my employees elsewhere. And when this is all over, my guests are ready to come in,” she said, adding that more than the financial damage she would take, the though of have a bad reputation would deter her from coming forward.

She said that hotels are under no obligation to step in and help the government. However, she added, “Drawing inspiration from His Majesty who has since day one been personally monitoring the situation, many of us felt the need to do our part to help the government and country in such difficult times.”

In Phuentsholing, besides offering the hotels as quarantine centres, many of the hoteliers have taken in all their Bhutanese staff and their families residing in Jaigoan and provided them accommodation in their hotels.

Kuensel learnt that the volunteered hotels have also not laid off any of their Bhutanese staff and are paying them their regular salaries. Besides the shortage of staff (foreign labourers) especially in the south, shortage of vegetables, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) supply, and disposable packaging containers, among others, were some of the challenges the hoteliers experienced.

Meanwhile, in one of the hotels, when a cook called in sick, the owner had to cook breakfast for 70 people in the quarantine centre.