The idea to facilitate community-based sustainable tourism, especially homestays in places like Gangtey and Phobjikha valleys in Wangdue, has been good.
It has not only given tourists and guests have an experience of the real Bhutanese village
life, but also benefited the local rural people who run these homestays. Homestays have become their alternate source of income, after potatoes.
Homestays charge about Nu 1,000 a night with a meal and earn about Nu 20,000 from a three-bedroom homestay service a night during peak tourist season. Besides enhancing the livelihood of the villagers, it has also immensely changed their interaction with the tourists.
That explains the reason for the deluge in the number of homestays in Gantey and Phobji valleys in the last many years. Through the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN)’s initiative as a part of community-based sustainable tourism, around 21 homestays were helped for operation in 2012 – around 10 households in Phobjikha and 11 in Gangtey.
The villagers were also given grant to develop infrastructure such as toilets and other amenities, indoor plumbing and other equipment to allow them to offer services to tourists and birders.
From a lone homestay in 1992 in Gangtey, there are today more than 30 homestays in Gangtey and Phobji gewogs.
The idea behind the inception of the homestays was also to take advantage of the situation then in the valleys as there were no hotels or guesthouses.
However, homestays in these villages today have been affected following the arrival of high-end resort and large tourist hotels overlooking the vast valley. There is a luxury hotel group in the valley even such as the Aman Resorts.
Further, construction of a few tourist hotels are still underway. And according to some who are into the homestay business, some of the local residents have already sold their land to prospective buyers who want to come up with hotels in these areas.
They fear that they would be out of business if more hotels come in these valleys.
It’s worth asking, therefore, whether there has been a genuine desire or whether there is a genuine desire to develop homestays in these places.
This is because while emphasis and initiatives have been undertaken to develop homestays by concerned agencies such as the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) that looks after certifying homestays and the RSPN, there has been no prohibition on the construction of luxury hotel and other hotels for tourists in these valleys.
Why has there been no moratorium on construction of high end resorts in these valleys? A similar moratorium like a three-year moratorium on construction of high end resorts in the dzongkhag that Haa dzongkhag Tshogdu decided to issue in December 2017 could have been issued for these places too.
Measures must be taken to help the homestay business in these places.