Hospitality in Gelephu is difficult

Choki Wangmo | Gelephu

With the opening of the border gate after long years of Covid, life has returned to some sort of normality, but the town of Gelephu still wears a deserted air 20 days after the country reopened the borders.

Businesses have yet to resume. The hospitality industry is the most affected sector.

According to business owners in the city, there was a surge in hotel construction in the time of Covid-19 as there was a growing demand for quarantine facilities in the border town. Currently, these hotels are closed as they have not been able to generate revenue for rent and staff salaries.

Gelephu today is a city full of hotels; there are more than 50 hotels.

A hotelier, Dotela, who had been in the hospitality industry for more than a decade, said new hotels in the city could not operate due to a lack of customers.

“Visitors from India refuse to stay overnight in the city as they have to pay a Sustainable Development Tax (SDF) of Nu 1,200,” he said, adding that daily visitors from across the border increased at the start of the reopening.

The entry and exit window for Indian visitors, he said, was also short.

The owner of the Khamsang hotel said more Bhutanese are visiting Indian cities than incoming visitors.

Another hotelier, Rinzin Dorji, struggles to earn monthly rent from his business.

“Our businesses will never go back to the pre-Covid times. At least I don’t have any loans to repay,” he said.

He also said Indian visitors were unwilling to stay overnight because of the homeless. Some, he said, were unable to enter the city due to permit issues.

However, Binod Pradhan, a hotelier, said his business has improved. Same-day visitors from across the border have increased.

“We don’t have many customers because the number of hotels in the city has increased significantly during the pandemic,” he said.

There were only about 35 hotels in the past.

On October 10, 548 foreign visitors entered the country from Gelephu, including Indian occasional visitors, foreign and daily workers and tourists. A total of 893 Bhutanese, including inter-Dzongkhag travellers, have been registered at the border.

Bhutanese visit the Indian town of Dhatgari on Thursdays and Sundays.

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