Small and medium hotel owners in Thimphu have raised concerns that the recent circular issued by immigration officials mandating regional tourists to have an advance hotel booking to obtain a permit is affecting their business.

The April 5 circular addressed to the regional director of immigration in Phuentsholing states that the decision was based on the security meeting held on March 31 in the foreign secretary’s chamber.

The then director general of immigration, Thinlay Wangchuk, signed the circular.

Sangay Tenzin, regional director of  immigration in Phuentsholing, signed the second circular.

The circular, many hotel owners in Thimphu said, has affected their business since they were never consulted.

A hotel owner said that he learnt about the notification when his guest called from Phuentsholing asking him to send the advanced hotel booking documents. “I sent it several times and it got rejected.”

Hotel owners said the immigration department should have consulted them before issuing the circular or conducted an awareness workshop so that they could have a clear picture of what the immigration officials wanted.

A hotel owner said that immigration department should have issued a standard advanced hotel booking format.

Hoteliers said that the immigration department through such a move is trying to cut their business.

“We make our living from walk-in tourists,” a hotel owner said.

He said that many small hotels in Thimphu that cater for regional tourists are going through a worse phase because of the move. “May and October are our season, but this time, only five rooms are occupied.”

Hoteliers who are not aware why the immigration department issued the circular said they are confused.

“Small and cottage industries make about to 63 percent of the service industry. I don’t understand why they are trying to kill us,” a hotel owner said. “Such a move will only widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Some hotel owners said they were told that it was a temporary measure and they are waiting for immigration officials to lift it. Others said that immigration officials have told them that while it was a temporary measure put in place during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit, they intend to implement the rule.

Hoteliers said that taxi drivers and tour agents are now taking advantage of the situation and asking commission from them.

A hotel owner said that small and medium hotels provide employment to orphans, widows and needy people. “Some of them also learn from us and take up their own business,” he said.

He said that the labour ministry’s report states hotels and restaurants create the third highest private employment. “If our business does not do well, where will these people go.”

Immigration officials from the head office in Thimphu said they are not aware of such a circular. “If it is signed by the then director general and Phuentsholing regional director, media should talk to them,” an official said.

Officials said that it must have been a temporary measure during the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit and should not be applicable anymore.

Sangay Tenzin refused to comment, saying that media should talk to officials in Thimphu.

Tashi Dema