Employment opportunities amid crisis - Tour guides opts farming
A tour guide could earn a minimum of Nu 30,000 per month during the peak tourist season in Bhutan. The income made was sufficient to support the family, make loan repayments, and save for the off-season months as well.
Except for the Royal Kidu relief tour guides now make zero income as there is not a single tourist in the country after the outbreak of COVID-19. They barely have enough money to pay their house rents, leave alone the loan repayment. Some of the tour guides are now opting to do farm work in their villages. But some of them do not own land while some of them have to travel very far to reach their villages.
Tour guides Tshering Nidup, 27, from Dawakha, Paro and Namgyel Dorji, 26, from Wangkha, Punakha is selling farm produce after they lost their only source of income to COVID-19. He said he used to earn well before the COVID-19 impact set in.
Tshering Nidup said, “December, January and February is offseason, and we were excited for the peak season (March, April and May). But the excitement ended before it even started. What we have earned during the last peak season has now finished. Some of us were having a difficult time paying rent.” They buy vegetables from Punakha to sell in Thimphu. They have been doing the business since a month ago.
“We need not have a huge investment for this business and there is no risk. Other businesses would need huge investment and time. So, we decided to go ahead with this. We have started our business with just Nu 10,000 as we did not have much savings,” said Tshering Nidup.
Tshering Nidup has been a tour guide for 7 years. He said since it will be tough for the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) to create jobs for all the guides in the country (more than 3,000 guides), therefore, guides must take responsibility and earn independently and not burden the government.
He shared that it is hard to sell the vegetables at a profit since they buy the vegetables from the farmers at quite a high rate. They bargain hard with the farmers, especially after the government imposed price range for vegetables sold in the market.
There is also a problem of selling the vegetables in the market as they do not have a designated stall.
“We do not have a place to sit and sell eventually. People chase us since we are occupying their area. And with the massive competition, we drive around to sell. We also go door-to-door,” he added.
Namgyel Dorji worked for the last 4 years as a guide. He said that he wants to continue doing the business despite the challenges. He said, “The profit we got was Nu 5,000 with the investment of Nu 10,000 and this is not enough to sustain. However, we feel that if we invest more then our earnings would be better. So we have a plan to invest more.”
They buy the vegetables in bulk every Thursday and Friday from Punakha. They are able to sell all the vegetables within two days. He said it further encourages them to enhance their business.
“We urge our fellow guides and drivers to not wait for the government to come up with something as the government is bogged down with important matters already. If we can't think of a business each then the government can fill up our slots for those who are more in need,” he added.
He said it is not easy to do the business at once but you get used to it, the work is same as guiding work. “So let us all come together and help the government to fight against every issue. It is also our responsibility to fight against COVID-19,” he added.
If the situation prolongs, they have a plan to enlarge their group (guides and drivers) and enhance their business by seeking microloans.