Sakteng looks to ecotourism as an alternative source of income

Besides rearing livestock, people in Sakteng are now taking up ecotourism business, such as homestays, to earn additional income. The number of tourists visiting Sakteng is increasing due to the reopening of the Yonphula Domestic Airport and completion of the road to Sakteng.

In 2011, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) had provided geyser water heaters and toilet equipment to the people to construct 23 homestays, but only one person took up the initiative, and therefore, Sakteng has only one fully operational homestay currently.

An official from SWS said, “We have provided the necessary equipment to construct homestays, but people have not been able to utilize them fully. Maybe because most tourists visiting the area preferred to camp as homestays are not able to cater to the needs of the visitors.”

However, with the completion of the road, the SWS official said the people in Sakteng are likely to take the opportunity and use the equipment to make homestays. “We also encourage people to engage in ecotourism activities so that they can have alternate source to generate income rather than just depending on livestock.”

Although the number of tourists visiting the area has fluctuated over the years, however, in 2018 Sakteng received the highest number of tourists with about 50 to 60 tourists. The increase in the number of tourists is due to improved accessibility and more people now knowing about Merak and Sakteng.

Sakteng Gup Sangay Dorji said, “During 2013 to 2017 when Yonphula Domestic Airport in Trashigang was not operational, we didn’t see much tourists coming here. Today we see increasing number of tourists coming. According to the record maintain by the Park services, around 60 to 100 tourists visit Sakteng gewog every year.”

He said, “In the future, we are expecting that more tourists would visit the village because Yonphula airport is operating two to three flights in a week, and now road is completed too. In the past, when there was no road, few tourists came here either by walking or on a horses, but now with the completion of road, we are hoping that more tourists would visit Sakteng.”

He said though the tourists visit irrespective of tourist season, 70 percent of tourists visit during Sakteng during March and April and during the winter season.

Gup said, “While most tourists stay in homestays and gewog guestroom, a few stay in camps. About 22 houses are being converted into homestays, the work is ongoing and shall be completed soon.”

He said, “Tourism industry is one of the highest revenue earning sectors for the government. During the past government’s tenure, in Eastern Dzongkhag including Trashigang, government has waived off minimum daily tariff for tourists visiting eastern region. So we can expect more tourists to come in.”

He further said, “And expecting that more tourists would visit our village, people are also preparing for it.  From my side, I tell my people that with Yonphula airport operating again, we can expect at least 500 to 600 tourists to visit here, and we should get prepare ourselves well by constructing more homestays to accommodate all the tourists. We should also get ready with our exclusive tourism products like Sakteng dress gho, kira, hat and kabney among others.”

Tshering Drakpa, owner of the only homestay, said, “As more number of tourists is visiting Sakteng, the park service said people should convert houses into homestay. The park office said around 20 to 22 home stays should come up.”

He said, “I converted my house into home stay as instructed by the park office.  I am the only person who has a homestay in Sakteng and my homestay is running successfully. There are a total of 9 beds and during peak tourist season, all my rooms get occupied. Even local travelers stay in my homestay.”

“I charge Nu 700 for tourists and Nu 200 to 250 for the local official. I find this business more lucrative. When I first started the business, I was worried that I might run into a loss, as not much tourists visited Sakteng and most who visited stayed in camps. But today, the number of tourists is increasing. Last year in 2018, about 60 tourists visited Sakteng,” he said.

“We are told that more tourists would visit in the future and additional homestays will be required. We are hopeful that homestay business in Sakteng would boom with the increase in the number of tourists,” he added.

According to the Sakteng Mangmi, Dendup, “When people from outside come into the village, it will have both positive and negative impact. In the past when we didn’t have much visitors from outside, things like plastic bottles, beer bottles and plastics are not seen in the village and we didn’t have any waste and the place was so clean, but now, with the different people coming in, different things are brought inside and various waste are littered everywhere in the village.”

He added, “In Sakteng, the language barrier is another issue because most of the tourist guides speak Dzongkha and only a few speak Sharchop. Though a few people in Sakteng can speak and understand Sharchop, many speak the Sakteng language.”

“So I feel it is important that we need to train our young boys and girls if they want to hire a local guide. If we get an opportunity to meet officials of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, we are planning to raise this issue and provide support in training the local guides,” he added.

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