Tour guides worried over sustainability issue

Draft TCB Rules and Regulations 2022 on the Cabinet’s Desk

After considering some recommendations from tour operators, the draft rules and regulations of the new Tourism Levy Act 2022 have been submitted by the council to the cabinet

With just a week left for Bhutan to open her gates and the arrival of tourists, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has submitted the draft rules and regulations of the Tourism Levy act 2022 to the Cabinet for endorsement.

According to stakeholders, changes have been made in the draft that came from the TCB’s side during discussions. Comprising 208 sections and 13 chapters, the document will need to be endorsed by the coming week, observers say.

Vice President of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) said that the important component of the draft was the requirement that bills for expenses incurred by tourists were to be paid by clients or by outside agents.

He said that this was like undermining the service providers here. Based on what ABTO submitted, TCB made the required changes.

He also said that the Council has taken out the clause, saying all the payments must be made through outside agents rather than the local agent within the country.

Another clause of the document stakeholders were not comfortable with is chapter two, which states, “a tourist shall be liable to pay a tourism levy known as sustainable development fee (SDF) of USD 200 per night.”

ABTO’s Vice President said that their submission was to include provisions where payments can be made by tourists or through tour operators within the country.

“That way, it will be an open field and there will be an opportunity for both us and the outside agents,” he said.

Meanwhile, the executive director of ABTO also stated that it is acceptable even if tour operators are not included, but they should at least include all service providers located within the country, including guides and hoteliers.

“We should provide the locals with an equal playing field as well,” he said, adding that if this rule passes then the tourist would be required to pay the fee to the immigration department, which would leave the tour operators in a precarious position as well; as it would be hard for tourists to go through procedures.”

Meanwhile, other changes that ABTO proposed was the fine that service providers like restaurants have to bear if their restaurant is not registered. Tourists availing service of non-registered restaurants in terms of meals/beverages will not be fined (both tourists and restaurants).

Additionally, the executive director said that they want to make things convenient for tourists. He also added that TCB had agreed to their proposal prior to submission to the cabinet and that they are currently anticipating the reopening of the borders and welcoming tourists while ensuring that everything goes as planned.

The nation will reopen the border and tourism gates on September 23, 2022, which is just a week away. According to the representatives of ABTO, as more tourists would arrive based on payments of the older SDF, the number of tourists visiting Bhutan in accordance with the new SDF too will increase.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu