PM responds about plans to normalize tourism industry

The full functioning of tourism has been delayed by the lack of a comprehensive tourism policy, according to the PM

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering was quizzed about the measures that have been put in place by the government to normalize the tourism industry to revive the economy of the country during the question-answer session of the National Assembly (NA).

Responding to the query from MP Tshering Choden from the Khar-Yurung constituency, the Prime Minister said the government is currently holding meetings and consultations with various stakeholders and agencies in order to reform the Tourism Levy Act, the results of which would be shared and discussed during this session of the parliament.

“Until now we have only discussed how tourism has benefited us in terms of bringing remittances, but we have completely ignored the strategies and procedures that will make it one of the most important revenue-generating sectors – healthy and robust in future,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen added, “We have been dependent on tourism for the country’s economic well-being for a long time and it’s just been about seven years since the establishment of regional tourism, which divides the tourists into those who pay in dollars and those in other currencies. However, we do not have this written in our tourism policy, but it is still maintained.”

According to Lyonchhen, the tourism sector’s major policy is ‘high value, low volume’, but that was made entirely on the basis of the number of tourists arriving here annually.

According to the PM, since 2017, the country has seen around 190,000 to 200,000 regional tourists and 80,000 to 90.000 international tourists, who pay in dollars.

“People claim that over 50,000 tourism workers have been impacted but our investigation reveals that just around 10,000 to 15,000 people in the industry have been genuinely impacted, who are tour operators, guides, and hoteliers,” Lyonchhen said.

Further, Lyonchhen also talked about the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR), which is USD 250 per tourist.

According to Lyonchhen, while calculating the total amount of money each tourist brings in while visiting Bhutan, excluding the MDPR, the government only receives 30% of it.

“Tourists bring a large sum of money, but many people grab half of it. Tourists appear to have even paid USD 1,000 per day but the country gets only USD 250,” the PM said.

Lyonchhen also admitted that various people in the industry have confronted several restrictions and problems. For instance, hotels do not receive much profit from tourism since there is no robust tourism policy in place.

“Tourism has brought in between USD 400mn to USD 500mn to the country till now, which has benefited the country, but the sector’s full functioning has been delayed by the lack of a comprehensive tourism policy,” the PM said.

The PM added that the government would now plan and revise the tourism act in such a way that tourism benefits not only the county but also every individual by planning other alternatives as a backup for the sector if it becomes paralyzed in the future, as it did during the pandemic.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu