Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

As the September 23 deadline to reopen the international borders in the south and allow people-to-people movement draws closer, the work to complete the construction of the pedestrian terminal in Phuentsholing is in full swing.

About 97 percent of the work was completed as of August 22.

Once complete, the terminal will have international (tourist) standard modern amenities such as the air-conditioning system, television, CCTV, a health counter and a public announcement system. A separate counter each will cater to tourists and the general public. The tourist counter will also have all the basic facilities. A currency exchange counter is in the plan too.  

The terminal will connect the previous entry and exit points near the main gate. The space where the Gol Building used to be will have the main infrastructure. Parking space that can accommodate 10 vehicles will also be available.

The executive secretary (ES) of Phuentsholing Thromde, Lungten Jamtsho, said that finishing works are underway at the moment. Starting August 25, furnishing work will be completed. The immigration office will set up their counters and start trials.

“We are confident about completing the work by this month,” he said.

However, it will take some time before the security system at the terminal is installed. A metal door frame detector and an X-Ray scanner for the luggage are being procured from Singapore which are expected to arrive by September 10.

Lungten Jamtsho said: “It takes just about a day to install them. The terminal will be completely ready then.”

Lungten Jamtsho also said the installation of the toughened glass took more time as the initial design had to be changed.

Inside the pedestrian terminal

Five contractors are involved in the various aspects of the work.

The government is spending an estimated budget of over Nu 183 million. A private building close to the terminal has occupied some space. Authorities have negotiated with the property owner and it will soon be claimed as government space.

Although most people in Phuentsholing are looking forward to the border opening, tourism-related businesses, especially hotels and restaurants have voiced concerns. Some are asking whether the country’s biggest trading town would return to its former self.

Hoteliers in Phuentsholing have also raised concerns regarding the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) the regional tourists will have to pay now. They have pointed out that Phuentsholing should be exempted from levying the fees.

If SDF is applicable in Phuentsholing, hoteliers and restaurant owners worry that they would lose business as regional tourists will stay across the border. Hoteliers said SDF should be applicable only after crossing the Rinchending check post.

A restaurant owner, Karma Tshering Dorji, said that while the country is preparing for the reopening of the border for tourists, there is also a need to improve the service delivery.

“My restaurant has been operating for the last 32 years, but these days there are not many people,” he said. “But the problem is that I don’t have staff.”

Karma Tshering Dorji said he needs four staff, including a trained cook. If the agencies concerned cannot provide us with Bhutanese workers, importing skilled foreign workers should be allowed.

A hotelier, Pema, said that it is yet to be seen how the influx of tourists and people will be handled as the Covid-19 cases are still increasing in parts of the world.

“There will always be risks,” he said.

Pema also said that despite the government doing away with all the Covid-19 related restrictions within the country in April this year, Phuentsholing, which was known as the busiest town, doesn’t have many people.