Photo Courtesy: Reuters

The impact of tourist numbers on the industry

Between January and March, Bhutan welcomed 25,003 tourists, marking a significant increase compared to the previous year. Although January and February showed little contrast, however, there was a noticeable increase in March, with many more guests arrivals.

Ugyen Chodra, employed at Zhidhay Tours and Treks, noted a slight improvement in sales, though not to pre-pandemic levels. He mentioned their focus on business-to-business operations. However, due to the pandemic, they were unable to participate in travel fairs, leading to a significant decrease in business flow. Post-pandemic, sales have not returned to previous levels, merely providing enough revenue to sustain and manage office operations.

Sonam Thinley, who owns Tower Cafe, mentioned that there has been more tourist activity this year, and they anticipate even more guests visiting the country.

He said his goal is to uphold quality services and food while maintaining cleanliness in the surroundings, benefiting everyone involved. He believes that these aspects are crucial to attract tourists.

Additionally, he said, “I believe there has been a significant increase in tourist numbers compared to last year, but the flow of tourists isn’t as overwhelming as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, we haven’t encountered any staffing or supply chain challenges at the moment. With many locals relocating, tourism is helping to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the market.”

Bhakti Maya, serving as the Room Division Manager at The Willows Hotel, mentioned that during the off-season, their hotel receives around 30 percent of guests, whereas during the tourist season, the numbers increase to 40-50 percent.

“We provide live music and entertaining activities, like bonfires for our guests. We do, however, recognize that some elderly visitors might prefer quieter environments. We ask them about their preferences before involving them in these kinds of activities, and if they would rather be entertained in a quieter environment, we don’t include them in these kinds of activities,”she added.

A taxi driver from Mongar, who worked as a driver for five years in Thimphu, mentioned that tourists visiting our country have numerous opportunities available to them,such as collaborating with travel agencies for various activities or services.

“Most tourists tend to visit popular attractions, like Buddha Point, the Memorial Chorten, and the Dzongs in Thimphu. As a driver, we assist them in reaching their desired destinations, and as guides, we also provide recommendations and information about these places,” he said.

Trongsa Tashi Ninjey Hotel mentioned that despite an increase in tourist arrivals in the country, areas like Trongsa, Bumthang, and other southern and eastern regions receive fewer visitors compared to western districts, primarily due to SDF.

Tourists have to pay SDF of USD 100 per night, which is higher than the USD 65 SDF they had to pay last year. As a result, there are fewer tourists visiting because of the increased SDF.

“I believe that a USD 100 Sustainable Development Fee is too burdensome for international tourists visiting the Eastern and Central regions of the country. It would be beneficial if the government maintained the SDF at its previous level for tourists visiting these areas. This adjustment could lead to an increase in occupancy rates over time,” Tashi Ninjey hotel said.

Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) Chairman Jigme, said “There is a need for ongoing efforts focused on growth and recovery within the hospitality sector. It emphasizes the necessity of adapting to changes as needed, maintaining marketing efforts, and collaborating with various stakeholders, including the government, to reach our target of 300,000 at the end of the year,” Jigme said.

According to HRAB, there are difficulties around the southern borders, as travelers are choosing to stay on the other side of the border because it offers them with more affordable accommodation choices and exemptions from the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF).

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