Homestay owners fear losing customers due to the rise in SDF

Homestays in Gangtey Gewog

LHAKPA TSHERING

Thimphu

After a lull, with the hefty levy on international tourists when it reopens this fall, the fear of losing customers is at the top of the worry list for the homestay owners in Gangtey-Phobjikha.

While tourist hotspots elsewhere in the country, too, are worried, homestay owners in Gangtey and Phobjikha gewogs have in mind the recent increase in sustainable development fee (SDF) could affect their business.

With these changes, they say, while ordinarily, tourists would not be able to afford to visit Bhutan, other wealthy tourists visiting the country would choose to stay in hotels.

Gangtey Gup Kinley Gyeltshen says that despite a huge investment in establishing their business, homestays are at the risk of losing customers. “It is mostly local and regional tourists who choose homestay,” he said.

He said many villagers are keen to establish homestays. “Every new house being built is designed for homestay. There are already over 20 village homestays in Gangtey-Phobjikha villages,” he added.

“Even if many tourists visit our village at the same time, only those who do not get hotels would go for a homestay,” he said, adding that there are 21 tourist hotels in the two gewogs.

Pasang Tobgay, who runs Gyelmo Homestay in Phobji Gewog, says not so many tourists prefer homestay services. “I think now only a few international tourists who really want to explore and experience village homestay would choose our service,” he said. 

In addition, some homestay owners even worry more with the notification of assessment and validation of service providers from the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) on 26 July.

Many say that the requirement for homestay readiness would cost a huge amount of money besides the pandemic sending their business into a loss over the last three years. 

“Some homestays went under renovation and maintenance during the pandemic. It would be of a great loss if we do not get customers after investment in lifting the homestay standard to their requirements,” says Pasang Tobgay.

However, the 8.2km recently improved gewog center roads give them hopes to bring more tourists as the troubles with the bad road are finally over.

“In the past, the main issue here was the bad road condition despite the place having high potential to receive a huge number of tourists. Now the roads are being improved and blacktopped thanks to His Majesty the King,” Gup Kinley Gyeltshen said. 

This he said was a huge relief to farmers and especially the homestay owners. “We expect to see the same or even more numbers of tourists even with the hefty levy,” he added.