Budget hotel appeal to govt for keeping regional tourists

On 26 July 2022, the erstwhile Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) announced that it will inspect the hotels for the TCB certification.

The notification stated, “In view of the requirement for all guests to stay in TCB certified accommodations, the readiness assessment will be carried out only for 3-Star and above hotels. TCB will contact the hotels for on-site assessment to validate the readiness of services.”

When the government issued a notification for budget hotels to upgrade themselves to the standards of Blue Poppy 1 and 2 in 2019, it was to cater to regional tourists. However, with recent changes in tourism policy that only allow hotels above 3 stars to cater to regional tourists, the business was greatly impacted.

Tshewang Jurmey is the officiating chairperson of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan, and he said they have been pleading with the government over the notification on not allowing budget hotels to cater to regional tourists.

Despite ongoing agreement with the complaints voiced by the owners of budget hotels, little progress has been made.

“We have been going around appealing to relevant offices for months. Initially, we went to the then-chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan; we visited his office more than two times. The chairperson never said no to our appeals but at the same time never received any change in policy,” said Tshewang Jurmey.

Similarly, budget hotels appealed again to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (now clubbed into MOICE).

“We met with Lynopo Loknath Sharma a couple of times. They all agreed, in person, and shared our concerns about losing customers. They gave us positive responses, but nothing came in writing; the policy drafted earlier remained as it is,” said Tshewang Jurmey.

Recently, the last meeting was with the Cabinet. They talked with an official of the Prime Minister’s Office, and had one session of discussion on the pros and cons and the issues faced by the budget hotels 14 days from now.

At the same time, categorizing hotels earlier and doing away with it today has also affected budget hotels.

“They have certified only a couple of hotels; they did not do it all together, and we found out that we were not allowed to cater to tourists only after we asked them to come and assess our hotel for Blue Poppy 1. That is why most of the hotels were not even verified by TCB (now the Department of Tourism) for the blue poppy category,” said Tshewang Jurmey.

Despite the certification of a few hotels by the Department of Tourism then and doing away with it today, already certified and upgraded hotels by TCB have borne the brunt.

“Before the pandemic, we were allowed to cater to regional tourists, and our restaurant used to get filled with regional tourists to eat at our place, and today look at it; it is empty,” said Tshering, the proprietor of a budget hotel.

“In terms of the profit that we make, it was seventy percent before, and today it is around thirty percent,” he added.

Similarly, Karma stated, “We were classified as part of the Blue Poppy group, and we spent hundreds of thousands of Ngultrums and more to upgrade. We were supposed to cater to regional tourists. However, after the changes that we made to our hotel, they came to check once, and later we found out budget hotels are not allowed to cater to regional tourists.”

“Our efforts were useless,” she added.

Meanwhile, budget hotels are still running into losses.

“Not a single hotel is happy; in Phuntsholing, 90 percent of hotels have no business, and 50 percent have already shut down. In Paro, fifty percent of hotels are dormant,” he said.

Tshewang Jurmery said that the major inconvenience caused to six hundred and thirty identified budget hotels is the need to unnecessarily upgrade and invest additional amounts of money and time to meet the level of standards that they create to be certified. Later on, they upgrade to another category.

“This has been the most significant annoyance and inconvenience caused by the system to a group of people or a sector of hotels doing business for generations,” he added. 

Despite the inconveniences, budget hotel owners are still hopeful for the situation to get better for them, and they insist on continuing with their appeal for help.

They are due to have a meeting with the Cabinet in the first week of February 2023.

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