The reopening and the mood ahead

The border have finally been reopened after almost a three-year hiatus and people, especially living in the bordering towns like Phuentsholing, are upbeat  of the new change.

About a hundred dollar-paying tourists arrived while another 23 regional, Indian tourists, came paying the new SDF of Nu 1,200 –a humbling number yet full of promises.  The mood at the Phuentsholing entry gate and at the Pro airport, which has been in a lull for quite a while, suddenly looked full of life as guests were ushered with all the niceties.

Hundreds of foreigners entered via the newly constructed entry gate at Phuentsholing that saw a visibly excited public welcome them with ceremonial scarves and smiles while none, except for a handful of day workers entered via the other border entry points at Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, and Samtse.

The enormity of the lockdown, closure, for foreigners after the coronavirus pandemic since November 2019 was massive for the country, especially for those working with the tourism and hospitality sector. Most tourists, and budget hotels alike, were forced to scale down their businesses while guides, travel agencies and taxi drivers alike were rendered jobless overnight.

The journey, of almost a three-year lull, has weighed down heavy on not only the citizens but the country as a whole and earning from tourism has been on an all time low.

Nonetheless, the reopening of Bhutan’s gates to the global community on 23 September heralds a new hope not only for the income-starved tourism industry but to those small workers and businesses who solely depended on the natural flow of people across either sides of the borders. The happiness of a tea seller at the Jaigoan side of the border was the brightest, while bar tenders in Phuentsholing saw a renewed hope for business.

While the number of tourists who entered Bhutan on the first day of the reopening is negligible, it surely provided a new hope that business will only grow better each passing day. The handicraft shops in Paro, that almost saw a phoenix like resurgence, are all restocked and geared for visitors, while taxi drivers are upbeat that business will return back to normalcy.

Nonetheless, the border towns of Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nganglam, and Kalikhola are yet to join the new revelry, and most have their fingers crossed that business and new tourist arrivals will only grow by the day.

The reopening was long overdue, and now that it has happened, one can only wish that the spoils and benefits are shared equally throughout the nation.