With just two days left for the country to reopen its borders to tourists, it is an exciting time for the handicraft shop owners in Paro town. For them, it is a time they have been longing for the past two and a half years. Tshongdue town in Paro can be called a hub of handicraft and souvenir shops but most of them closed down or switched business amid the Covid pandemic.
27-year-old Pema Wangdi is a busy man these days. He has just finished converting his restaurant back into a handicraft shop. After finding it hard to make a living without any foreign visitors, Pema turned his handicraft shop into a restaurant in August 2020.
Today, he is excited to welcome tourists back into his shop.
“My sister and I both have handicraft shops in the town, but since we didn’t have any customers we converted it into a grocery and restaurant. We survived the pandemic this way. But now that we will have international guests, we have converted our shops back and also carried out renovations and repainted them. We are very excited,” adds Pema.
A few blocks down from Pema’s shop, Ugyen Tshomo is also busy arranging her goods in her shop. For more than two years, the shop was operating as a vegetable outlet. Ugyen says she has high hopes for the country’s new tourism approach.
“Previously due to the low daily tariff, we had all kinds of tourists so accordingly we had to manage our business. Now with the increase in tariff, we are expecting high-quality tourists, which will be good for our business as well. We can keep high-quality goods, which the guests will be able to afford.”
Of more than 50 handicraft and souvenir shops in Paro town, almost 90 per cent closed down shops or changed their business due to the Covid pandemic. Today, all of them have reverted to the tourism business.
Before the pandemic we used to get a commission from selling artefacts but when the pandemic struck we had to survive only on our salary. But now we are hopeful of better times once the tourists start coming in,” says Sanita Rasaili, a salesperson at Handicraft shop.
“We are looking forward as we are fully dependent on tourism. The country as a whole will benefit. We are also excited because we can go back to our work after almost three years,” says Kezang, a Tour guide.
“I sold blankets and garments but it is not as lucrative as a handicraft shop. I am eager and excited to welcome tourists from Friday onwards,” adds Kinley Dem, Handcraft Shop Owner.
Meanwhile, the town itself is undergoing a major facelift. Officials are cleaning the streets, renovating infrastructures and preparing the district for the much-anticipated occasion.
Namgay Wangchuk, Paro
Edited by Yeshi Gyaltshen