Rebuilding a robust tourism sector for the future

ABTO submits a bevy of recommendations to the Tourism Council of Bhutan to revive the tourism sector

The hard-hit tourism industry may take a while to bounce back to its pre-pandemic normal, but the ongoing relaxations have given the tourism sector a hope for revival.

Recently, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) reduced the 14-day quarantine period to five days of facility quarantine for international travelers. And just about that time, Bhutan welcomed its first group of 34 tourists on April 2.

With the easing of the quarantine system and the resumption of airline services, many in the tourism industry are optimistic that the industry will gradually recover from the long hiatus.

To rebuild the tourism industry and strong tourist resurgence, the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB) have proposed a few strategies to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

The Executive Director of ABTO, Sonam Dorji said the way forward for restarting tourism includes a request for a phased reopening of tourism (with a schedule for prospective relaxations) to aid the industry.

“The first phase of reopening and boosting tourism was implemented, which was the quarantine period being decreased to five days from 14 days.”

The proposed strategies also include implementing one-night quarantine upon arrival and to allow incoming individuals to test and go from June 1, 2022.

ABTO has also proposed fiscal measures for the industry such as revival of bridge loan, deferment of EMI payments until the industry recovers, and marketing subsidy to be ploughed from promotion and marketing budget of TCB and air fare subsidy. 

Non- fiscal measures include the promotion and marketing which will be targeted at small haul source markets such as Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia among others along with the up-skilling and re-skilling training for tourism workforce.

“The tax holidays provided to the tourism industry have become obsolete as tourism was not open for over the last two years. Hence, the lost years could be compensated by extending the incentives durations,” said Sonam Dorji.

The proposed recommendations also emphasized on the removal of discounts.

“Tour operators were informed by the TCB that all discounts like duration, groups, students and children will be discontinued immediately,” said Sonam Dorji.

He said the discounts were provided since the start of tourism and are still provided in the rest of the world for reasons such as to encourage the tourists to stay longer thereby having geographical coverage.

“However, there was no mention of discounts when the Tourism Levy Exemption Act of Bhutan 2018 was passed and implemented,” Sonam Dorji said.  

“Additionally, the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 also does not mention the discount while the lone tourist who came in 2021 was given a duration discount.  The Act also does not mention about the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) of USD 250 and USD 200, however it is maintained,” he added. 

Apart from the ABTO and other tourism stakeholders asking the TCB to look into the matter and approve the new rules and regulations, they have also requested for clarity on the commission for offshore agents, which currently is 10% of the MDPR.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu