Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Almost all the businesses in Phuentsholing have returned to normal after lockdown relaxation but the small budget hotels that are not being used as quarantine facilities are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

Phuentsholing is still considered the red zone and this has hit these hotels hard as the quarantine protocol requires people from other dzongkhags travelling to the border town to go under quarantine, which has drastically reduced the number of visitors in the otherwise busy town.

The owner of Tshering Phuensum Hotel, Pema, had locked his reception door and said there was no use keeping the door open when there was not a single customer.

All the hotels functioning as quarantine services were new, he said, adding that the old budget hotels did not get any business.

Pema said that he was not against other hotels getting “quarantine business” but older hotels with fewer rooms need business too.

For a hotel to avail quarantine service businesses, it must have at least 15 rooms. Tshering Phuensum has 13.

“What about catering services? There are several hotels like mine and we could be given the catering services on a rotational basis,” Pema said.

Pema pays Nu 185,000 rent per month for his hotel. Although 50 percent of the rent was waived until September, he is unsure of the waiver henceforth. He also has five staffs to pay for and has not tried for kidu.

Hotel Paradise has 21 rooms but it didn’t qualify as a quarantine facility. The owner, Yeshey, said the health officials did not want the hotel as a quarantine facility due to the balconies attached to the rooms.

Yeshey had 13 staffs before the lockdown. Today, he has just three.

“The situation was okay before the lockdown but after the lockdown we haven’t received even one customer,” he said.

“I open the hotel for just a few hours in a day and close.”

Showing the empty rooms, Dogar Hotel’s owner, Gyem Sangay, said that the hotel did not get a single room after the lockdown. Dogar Hotel has 15 rooms.

“It is mainly because people from other dzongkhags don’t travel to Phuentsholing anymore.”

Gyem Sangay said that it was hard to understand why there was no freedom of movement inside the country when people from across the border are allowed to come in.

“We are about 10 to 12 small hotels that have completely lost the business.”

With not many people in the town, many restaurants have also lost businesses. Some restaurateurs are even selling spaces.

Thuji Dema, 49, was sitting silently at the counter yesterday, waiting for customers.

“I have not sold a beer today. But it has been like this since the lockdown.”

After a waiver of Nu 10,000, Thuji pays Nu 25,000 rent per month from her own savings.

A hotelier, Deki Wangmo, has rented out six out of the eight rooms.

“There was no other option.”