The income generated from the home stays and campsites in the country have helped improve family income, conservation of the environment, tradition and culture, according to an evaluation on ecotourism.

The evaluation by the Gross National Happiness Commission in April this year was carried out to assess ecotourism impact on the livelihood of the local communities and its contribution to the conservation of environment and culture.

The evaluation was focused on village home-stays and community managed campsites.

About 95 percent of the homestay operators said the income generated from the home stays have helped the community earn alternative sources of income, witnessed improvement in the preservation of rich tradition and culture. They said it had also improved the conservation of the environment.

According to the evaluation, about five percent supported that there was an improvement in the family income and preservation of tradition and culture, while few others are not sure because of problems in managing home stays.

On an average, the annual earnings from the homestay in the country range between Nu 20,000 and Nu 50,000.

The evaluation states that home stays in Zhemgang earn as high as Nu 400,000 annually because of more number of Indian tourists from across the border.

Homestays in Zhemgang and Paro earns the highest with annual earning of above Nu 300,000 annually. This is followed by homestays in Wangdue, Thimphu and Lhuentse with annual earnings ranging between Nu 100,000 and Nu 200,000.

About 57 percent of the earnings were made from the bed nights spent by the visitors in the home stays while 23 percent was earned from the bed night and guide services.

About nine percent was earned through bed nights and other services such as food, beverages and other facilities in the homestays.

Similarly, the campsites make an annual gross income of about Nu 273,000 around the Nubji-Korphu Trek and Nu 385,000 to Nu 435,000 along the Jomolhari Trek.

The main source of income for the campsites is also from the night holds spent by the visitors and services like local guides, porter and pony, cultural programmes, stone bath facility and other hospitality and entertainment services provided by the campsite operators.

About 59 percent of the homestay respondents supported that there is benefit to the households in the nearby areas while 41 percent said there is no benefit to the surrounding area.

According to the evaluation, this could be because individual households operate most of the homestays and there is not much coordination and teamwork to bring about an overall improvement in the community.

However, it was found that certain business activities like sale of local vegetables, opening of grocery shops and bars and locally made handicrafts were developed in some of the areas.

In case of campsites, the respondents said there was benefit to the nearby areas in terms of business development, employment opportunities, improvement and development of facilities, infrastructure and services, leading to overall improvement in the living conditions of the rural people.

About 89 percent of the respondents said the ecotourism programme had brought about positive effect to the lives of the people in terms of supplementing their living conditions while 64 percent said there is an improvement in the lives of the people because of the programme.

Respondents said the earnings from the home stays supported them in sending their children to schools and buying household items.

“The impact of ecotourism is present in almost all the areas as can be seen in terms of boosting the economy and business activity of the community, revival of old tradition and culture such as re-introduction of some of the local festivals, coming up with unique activities and products from each of the communities,” it states.

The evaluation found that 98 percent of the home stays were using exclusive traditional products like local food products, locally available furniture and household items to promote and preserve tradition and culture.

“This is a significant impact of ecotourism to bring about the preservation of culture when the country and the global world is facing challenges in maintaining the culture due to developments taking place in the world,” it states.

It was found that almost all home stays were treating the visitors in traditional customs so as to promote the country’s rich tradition and culture to the outside world.

Dechen Tshomo