Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
In the wake of the recent incident where the Indian Government froze the entry of international tourists from Darranga town in Assam, India affected hoteliers from the eastern region of the country congregated in Samdrupjongkhar yesterday to discuss and evaluate the impact of the crisis
They agreed to appeal to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for intervention.
“Although the Indian government consented to keep the Darranga route accessible till December for international tourists, it is less of consolation and rather a serious call for concern, considering many of our clients had already cancelled or re-routed their tour this season, and now uncertainty after December has affected room reservations for next season as well,” said Karma Tenzin, a hotelier in Samdrupjongkhar.
“Moreover, the Prime Minister’s statement about taking up the issue only after the launch of the National Tourism Policy (NTP) in July next year is not comforting,” he added.
Samdrupjongkhar has been in a crisis since the commissioning of Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam road, said another hotelier, explaining how the economy of the border town has been brought to its knees by the new highway.
“However, we had profound hope the present government would understand our predicament and relax the restriction imposed on regional tourist entry from our town, which would create a trickledown effect that would benefit everyone in the region. But it seems the progress will have to wait for now,” Karma said.
Participants discussed about how their dzongkhags have great potential for both eco and cultural tourism, and why the government should honour the decision of the National Assembly (NA), which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new entry points from five southern towns.
“We generate a lot of employment for the youths, pay substantial taxes to the government and given the diverse flora and fauna in our region, not to mention the cultures unique to these parts of the country, we have a lot of potential in the tourism business,” said Kuenga, the chairman of the Eastern Bhutan Hotel Association (EBHA).
Participants said what about the security of the capital city, which houses all the important people and offices, adding that over 270,000 tourists, mostly bound for Thimphu are allowed entry from Phuentsholing.
Meanwhile, regarding the entry for regional tourists, the participants decided to appeal to the PMO to revive the special permit granted earlier to Indian tourists travelling to the interiors via special permit, which was abruptly stopped a few years back.
As for the decision of the cabinet to defer the new entry points for regional tourists till mid next year, the hoteliers and the taxi tshogpas agreed to petition to the Prime Minister to allow them to take complete risk of the tourists travelling to the region like earlier, thereby putting to rest any security concerns the government may have regarding their decision.
Samdrupjongkhar Taxi Association’s (SJTA) chairman, Kelzang Jigme, said they used to take Indian tourists to Dewathang and beyond earlier through similar arrangement, where they took complete responsibility to bring them back safely to the border town.
The participants came up with a set of recommendations to be submitted to the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and all the relevant people and agencies in the government, which primarily includes liberalising the entry point for both international and regional tourists from Samdrupjongkhar.
Meanwhile, the hotel association in Samdrupjongkhar merged with the EBHA for effective functioning besides agreeing to create a website projecting all the attractions in the region.