Phobjikha homestay owners complain of unfair tourist distribution

There are around 30 homestays in Phobjikha and Gangtey – 13 in Phobjikha and 17 in Gangtey

Many homestay owners in Phobjikha in Wangdue have allegedly accused the Royal Society for Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) base office in Phobjikha and the Gewog Mangmi (local government representative) for unfair distribution of tourists to homestays in Phobjikha.

Alleging favoritism and nepotism, the homestay owners in Phobjikha say the RSPN base office and the GewogMangmi have been instead sending tourists to their houses or the houses of their relatives or friends.

They say the Mangmi takes tourists availing homestay services only to his home or to the houses of his neighbors and relatives rather than distributing and sending them to the other homestays, adding that tourists are also sent to houses that are not registered as homestays.

Further, it has been alleged that most tourists are sent to homestays in Gangtey, thus having affected the homestays in Phobjikha.

Meanwhile, there are around 30 homestays in Phobjikha and Gangtey – 13 in Phobjikha and 17 in Gangtey. The homestays were started as part of the community based sustainable tourism under the initiative of the RSPN since 2012.

The tourists availing homestay services have been distributed to the homestays by the RSPN base office in Phobjikha during the initial period with the formation of a Tshogpa.

However, homestay owners in Phobjikha say the distribution of guests has been uneven and more towards Gangtey now.

A homestay owner said the Gewog Mangmi takes more guests than other homestays and it could be easily found if we checked out with the distribution list.

“If you can be a Mangmi, it shows you can have more advantage and power in the community and over ordinary people,” he added.

Another homestay owner requesting anonymity said the issue was also raised to the RSPN base office but in vain.

Another homestay owner, Zangmo, said it has been two years now that they stopped receiving guests as many are taken away by the homestays in Gangtey.

She added that a fewer guest arrival in Phobjikha community had affected their business and income over the past few years and that she received one to two tourists last year.

However, the former RSPN base manager in Phobjikha, TsheringChoki said RSPN had never distributed tourists as they are not travel agent, but at the initial period they had set a Tshogpa responsible for the distribution of tourists.

“Private travel agencies prefer Gangtey over Phobjikha homestays as it’s centrally located and Phobjikha has been a bit far and moreover all depend on the individual homestay owner on how to attract tourists, guides and travel agencies,” she added.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the Gewog Mangmi said travel agencies call him personally and book his farm house and that the arrival of tourists at his house makes other homestay owners look that he takes away the tourists.

“If RSPN sends tourist then Tshogpa handles that and in which I am not part of it and I totally decline all the rumors as false allegation. They previously reported the same matter to RSPN official too,” he said.

The current RSPN Manager, Santa, said that they don’t distribute guests to homestays but previously there was a Tshogpa.

“But now there isn’t any coordinator to do that and it has been inactive,” he said, adding that if any tourist now wants to stay in Phobjikha, it depends on tourist guides and travel agencts.

“Most importantly, homestay owners too have contacts and associates in the tourism industry,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Gangtey homestay owner, Pema Choden, said previously a Tshogpa was formed but after few years later it was discontinued and distribution of guests has been affected.

 “Neither the Gup nor Mangmi had been involved in the distribution except the village Tshogpa,” she added.

As a tourist wanting to stay in homestays depends on the individual travel agents, Phobjikha Gup Jamtsho said that he cannot comment on the distribution of tourists as the Gewog administration is no part of it. Meanwhile, around 19,500 regional and foreign tourists visited Gangtey and Phobjikha last year.

Tshering from Thimphu