After two years, the Royal Highland Festival resumed bringing joy to the people of Laya, Gasa district. While the people thanked His Majesty the King for instituting the festival and providing them economic opportunities, residents said that a short duration training for them in hospitality would aid them immensely in providing quality service, which would increase the number of guests coming to Laya and Bhutan.
Wangchuk from Nyelu, Laya gewog, who had about 13 Bhutanese guests staying at his homestay earned about Nu 30,000 in a few days. His family also got some service tips. Wangchuk said that homestay owners from Laya are encouraged and determined to run the business. “We thought that the homestay business in our village may not becoming vibrant after the COVID 19 pandemic. However, it has resumed and with His Majesty personally attending the festival, we are inspired to play our parts,” he said.
However, Wangchuk said that the local people are worried. “We have guests who pay a lot to visit our country and many stay in our homestays. But we are concerned about the quality of services that are offered,” he said, adding that though there have been no complaints as such, they do not want to disappoint guests.
“If we could avail a short training on hospitality and cookery, the quality of services offered will improve a lot,” he said. “But we will never compromise on showcasing our culture, the way we lead our lives and others,” he said.
Rinchen Tshering, also from Nyelu village said that the festival is a special event for the Layaps which helps them earn more. He said that their homestay business was inactive for about two years and they could not earn. With few Bhutanese guests staying at his homestay, he earned a decent amount. Underscoring that the festival continues to lift the spirits of highlanders, he also mentioned the need of some “basic training.”
“Foreign guests come to experience our way of life and see how beautiful the region is. But we are not able to serve them what they want and we see them eating canned food. If we could be trained in making just two or three of their dishes, I feel that it will further boost their visits,” he said.
Meanwhile, the festival has revived Laya’s homestay business. Kago Tshering from Chongra village shared his happiness and said that they earn the most during the festival.
“The Royal Highland Festival is a special event for the highlanders, initiated by His Majesty. This festival inspires people from other parts of the country and the world to visit very remote places like Laya,” he said.
Tshering from Toko village, who had both Bhutanese and foreign guests at his homestay said he charged Nu 1,100 per person per night, irrespective of nationalities. It also included food. He earned more than Nu 100,000 during the festival, besides pony charges, which comprises of ten horses all carrying luggage of visitors for several days. “If the festival was not stopped during the pandemic, it would have encouraged villagers to accommodate the tourists and build more and better houses. We can also improve the facilities and services in the coming years,” he said.
There are about 40 homestays in Laya gewog. Unlike other tourist hotspot areas, homestays in Laya are the own homes of the villagers which can accommodate tourists without modern facilities. However, travelers are made to indulge in a travel experience that enables them to connect with locals, gets genuine insight into their culture and traditional lifestyles. Besides the homestays, people also set up stalls where local products are sold.
The two day Royal Highland Festival was held on October 23 and 24, 2022.
Sangay Rabten from Laya