Made in Bhutan handicraft shop owners hope current tourism season can change things around

Handicraft shop owners in Chubachu, Thimphu are loaded with excitement as April marks the beginning of the tourist season. However, they mentioned that there has been a decline in the business in the last few years.

Some of the handicraft shop owners pay Nu 4,820 per month to rent a shop space with access to  washroom. The rent does not eat into their profit too much.

As the number of tourists increases, they excitedly await for the chance to exhibit their crafts, hoping to draw in those looking to purchase genuine Bhutanese products.

Kinley Dem, a 33-year-old woman from Punakha, owns a handicraft shop, and she said, “I have been running the handicraft shop for almost four years now. I purchase items from the graduates of the Zorig Chusum Academy.”

She added, “Paying the rent is not much of a burden, but during the off seasons, I cannot make much  money from running the handicraft shop even though I open the shop from 8:30 am and close at 7:30 pm.”

Sonam Wangchuk, a 22-year-old from Paro, who helps his sister at the handicraft shop shared, “My sister has been running the handicraft shop since the establishment of such a handicraft market. I feel like she earns more during the times of Paro Tshechu and Thimphu Tshechu as we see a lot of tourists from various countries.”

“It is always productive to adjust between the tourism season and off season regarding the rent of the space to exhibit our products,” he said in reference to the rental fee. Furthermore, he added, “We produce our own products rather than importing from others.”

Sonam Yuden, a 28-year-old from Trashigang, who has worked for seven years at T. Dorji Handicrafts, stated, “My owner pays me well, but it is pretty rare for us to get customers during the off season. Every item on display in our handicrafts is a creation of either the owner or by me.”

Additionally, she said, “I have noticed that we receive the most amount of customers from the month of April to July, which is mostly referred to as the tourist season. When we receive customers, both foreigners and Bhutanese come to purchase our products.”

Yeshi Choden, a 45-year-old woman from Merak, Trashigang, said, “Me and my husband run this handicraft together and it has been five years since the handicraft shop has been handed over to us by our cousin.”

Moreover, she added, ‘We don’t buy anything from outside sources because I handle all the tailoring, which includes sewing bags, pencil cases, Thangkas, and other items. My husband does all the tasks related to carvings, such as crafting different types of masks.”

She said, “In the years that followed, we saw a decline in the number of customers, particularly tourists, purchasing our products. The amount has been declining following the pandemic and the increase in the daily tariff that each visitor must pay. Our ability to turn a profit has been limited ever since.”

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