After an abrupt halt for a little more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we will witness tourism reopening once again in the country with a group of 34 international tourists arriving in the country.
The travelers comprise natives from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, and France, and will be in the country for 27 nights, including the 14 days of mandatory facility quarantine.
Meanwhile, tourism and the entry of tourists in the country was suspended by the government in March 2020 after detecting the first Covid-19 case in Bhutan.
However, in 2021, Bhutan received one tourist who toured the country after going through the mandatory 21-day facility quarantine.
There is no denying that tourism, which has been one of the main sources of revenue to the government exchequer through convertible currency earnings and employment generation, remains among the sectors hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic in Bhutan.
According to the Annual Report of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), the apex tourism body in the country, arrivals dropped by 91% from 315,599 visitors in 2019 to 29,812 visitors in 2020 due to Covid-19.
Gross receipts were down by 92%, reaching USD 19.84mn in 2020 from USD 225.87mn in 2019, while direct revenue also declined by 90.4% to USD 2.76mn in 2020 from 23.42mn in the previous year.
The pandemic further had a disproportionate impact on the Bhutanese employed in the tourism sector leading to lay-offs and temporary closure of tourism businesses and other tourism related enterprises. Reportedly, the livelihoods of some 50,000 Bhutanese working in the sector, including hoteliers, travel agents and tour guides, have been affected by the temporary restriction on tourism.
Meanwhile, how far things would probably change in tourism and for those in the sector now would be known when tourism finally reopens and becomes fully operational.
Sensible to what the Opposition Party mentioned this week, there is, however, a need for a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for tourism to be put in place for the management of tourism in the new phase. However, just having a SOP will not be enough. In view of the past experience where cases of Covid-91 have emerged because of lapses in protocols, it is equally important to ensure that the protocols are properly and non-compromisingly followed.
And while some quarantine requirements will remain for time being and are necessary too, it must be ensured that they aren’t cumbersome and a deterrent for those wanting to visit the country. As we reopen tourism, the two important things for us and for now are to ward off possible risks to the nation, while ensuring a wonderful and memorable experience for the visitors visiting the country. We must live up to our “high value, low impact” tourism policy.