… however, hoteliers say waiver duration is too short

Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu

The government’s decision to waive the sustainable development fee (SDF) for casual visitors in the border towns has brought much-awaited relief to the hoteliers in Gelephu. 

The Cabinet on March 30 announced the waiver decision for the tourists visiting the border towns of Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar up to 24 hours starting April 14.

Gelephu hoteliers said that it is a favourable decision considering the current situation when the hospitality industry is going through trying times due to the slowing down of tourist arrivals in the country.

Sonam Tshering, the owner of Hotel Terma, said that while the recovery would take time, the SDF decision would help the hotel and restaurant business move forward.

“We are thankful to the government for understanding our concerns. This would help us clear the dues and pay the bank loans,” he said.

“Hotels that have been hit badly by the pandemic are struggling due to the implementation of SDF. Hotel occupancy dropped drastically and suffered huge revenue losses over the years,” he said.

However, Sonam Tshering said that the waiver duration is too short. “Of course, more visitors would come from the nearby border towns, but the decision would not help to attract tourists from faraway places.” 

Requesting the government to extend the wavier duration to three to five days, he said, this would encourage more visitors from Guwahati and Meghalaya in Northeast India. “They used to come in a big group before the pandemic for long periods.”

Highlighting the dismal performance of the hotel business, Pema Namgyel, who runs Hotel Sonam Dhejung, said that there would be more people coming and more business. “We are not even able to meet the expenses from the income. It would immensely benefit the hoteliers.”

“While we have lost our local customers to the border towns with the reopening of the border gates, the outsider guests could not come to our country due to the implementation of SDF,” he said.

The hoteliers also expect that the SDF waiver would reduce the long queues at the border gates, which many say, has discouraged tourists from visiting the country.

Owner of Hotel Ningtop, Phuntsho Zangmo, said that the long formalities at the gate also discourage visitors. “Sometimes the visitors have to wait for hours. They do not like such hassles.”

“While the road to complete recovery would take time, I am looking forward to a positive business. I have been paying a monthly rent of only 50 percent (Nu 45,000),” she said.

Another hotelier said that other countries have taken tourist attraction measures such as providing free air tickets and accommodation to visitors. “When I see such promotional strategies, I get confused about why our government is doing the opposite.”

Meanwhile, some hoteliers are not aware of the government’s decision to waive off the SDF. Hoteliers say relevant stakeholders should also focus on creating awareness of such important decisions.