Thimpu, Bhutan-In 2011, the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) provided geyser water heaters and toilet equipment to construct 23 homestays. However, only one person took up the initiative, therefore Sakteng has only one fully operational homestay currently.
An official from the SWS said, “We have provided the necessary equipment to construct homestays, but people have not been able to utilise them fully. Maybe because most tourists visiting the area preferred to camp as homestays are not able to cater to their needs.”
However, with the completion of the road, SWS official said the people in Sakteng are likely to take the opportunity and use the equipment to make homestays.
“We also encourage people to engage in ecotourism activities so that they can have alternative sources to generate income rather than just depend on their livestock.”
In 2018, Sakteng received the highest number, about 50 to 60 tourists. The increase is due to improved accessibility and more people being aware of the districts of Merak and Sakteng.
More tourists set to visit Sakteng in future
Sakteng’s Gup, Sangay Dorji said, “From 2013 to 2017 when the Yonphula Domestic Airport in Trashigang was not operational, we didn’t see many tourists coming here. Today we see increasing number of tourists coming. According to the record maintain by the Park services, around 60 to 100 tourists visit Sakteng gewog every year.”
“In future, we are expecting more tourists to visit the village because the Yonphula airport will be operating two to three flights a week, and now the road is completed too. In the past, when there was no road, the few tourists who came here did so either by walking or by riding horses.”
He also added that 70 percent of the tourists visited Sakteng in March and April as well as during the winter season.
“While most tourists stay in homestays and the gewog (village) guestroom, a few stay in camps. About 22 houses are being converted into homestays, the work is ongoing and will be completed soon.”
The Tourism industry is one of the highest revenue earning sector for the government. During the past government’s tenure, in the Eastern dzongkhag (district) including Trashigang, Bhutan’s government waived the minimum daily tariff of US$65 per day for tourists visiting the eastern region.
“And expecting that more tourists to visit our village, people are also preparing for it. From my side, I tell my people that with Yonphula airport operating again, we can expect at least 500 to 600 tourists, and we should prepare ourselves well by constructing more homestays to accommodate all tourists. We should also get ready to showcase our exclusive products like the Sakteng dress, gho, kira, hat, kabney among others.”
Tshering Drakpa, the owner of Sakteng’s only homestay said, “As more tourists visit Sakteng, the park service said people should convert houses into homestay. The park office suggested that around 20 to 22 home stays should be established.”
“I converted my house into a homestay as instructed by the park office. I am the only person who has a homestay in Sakteng and my homestay is running successfully. There are a total of 9 beds and during the peak tourist season, all my rooms get occupied. Even local travellers stay in my homestay.”
“I charge Nu 700 for tourists and Nu 200 to 250 for the local official. I find this business more lucrative. When I first started the business, I was worried that I might run into a loss, as not many tourists visited Sakteng and most who visited stayed in camps. But today, the number of tourists is increasing. Last year in 2018, about 60 tourists visited Sakteng,” he said.
“We are told that more tourists would visit in the future and additional homestays will be required. We are hopeful that our homestay business in Sakteng will boom with the increase in the number of tourists,” he added.
Some challenges to overcome
According to the Sakteng Mangmi, Dendup, “When people from outside come into the village, it will have both positive and negative impact. In the past when we didn’t have many visitors from outside, things like plastic bottles, beer bottles and plastics are not seen in the village and we didn’t have any waste and the place was so clean, but now, with the different people coming in, different things are brought inside and various waste are littered everywhere in the village.”
Morever, in Sakteng, language barrier is another issue because most of the tourist guides speak Dzongkha and only a few speak Sharchop. Though a few people in Sakteng can speak and understand Sharchop, many still speak the Sakteng language.
“So I feel it is important that we need to train our young boys and girls if they want to hire a local guide. If we get an opportunity to meet officials from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, we will raise this issue and provide support for the training of local guides.”