Rebuilding a robust tourism sector for the future

TCB yet to discuss points submitted by ABTO

TCB’s Director General says that discounts have been lifted as per the “Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020”, which came into force on July 1, 2020

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is yet to hold a council meeting and discuss the recommendations and proposal points, titled ‘way forward on reopening and reviving tourism’, that were submitted by the Association of Bhutanese Tours (ABTO) in the first week of April to the TCB.

TCB’s Director General, Dorji Dhradhul, said. “The TCB is yet to convene the council meeting during which the proposals will be discussed.”

The first proposal proposed by the ABTO, meanwhile, was to have a phase-wise reopening of tourism under which they have proposed to allow a ‘test and go’ scheme and completely do away with the quarantine period of five days for international tourists from June.

Sharing his views on some points, the Director General said,  “Coming to the proposal on doing away completely with the quarantine period by June for tourists would mean that we are reopening tourism, which I believe will be too soon and too early mainly for three reasons.”

According to the Director General, firstly, going by the present trend of COVID-19 spread in the country, it is quite certain that the same trend might continue into June and beyond. Therefore the risk for tourists to contact COVID 19-locally will be really high.

“Secondly, the service sector, especially the hotels, will need some more time to put in place the minimum required tourist standards after a long gap of two years, and many tourist standards hotels have been used as quarantine and containment facilities until very recently,” Dorji Dhradhul said.

“Thirdly, as the tourism sector is under review, it will need some more time to prepare for the changes to be rolled out as and when we formally re-open. Therefore, in the longer and wider interests of all stakeholders, it would be right not to rush for re-opening,” he added.

He further stated that it would be a disaster for Brand Bhutan in the event a tourist gets infected with COVID-19 in the country or if even one tourist returns unhappy because of the sub-standard services.

“We know that any tourist coming to Bhutan will always have the highest expectations in all aspects. Subsequently, we have to make sure that their health, safety, and personal experience are not compromised in our rush to re-open,” the Director General said.  

The removal of discounts was another point raised by the ABTO. 

According to the ABTO, the TCB had already informed tour operators that discounts for various groups of tourists, such as duration discounts, child discounts, student discounts, and group discounts would be discontinued.

ABTO, on the other hand, stated in their proposal that all discounts were offered since the Tourist Rules and Regulations of 2017 was applied.

Dorji Dhradhul responded that discounts have been lifted as per the “Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020”, which came into force on July 1, 2020.

“While the Act is silent on “Discounts”, the Office of Attorney General upon our request interpreted that granting of “discounts” on Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) would contravene the Act in force. Therefore unless the Act is amended and discounts are provided under the Amendment, nothing can be done on this,” he added.

However, tour operators, on the other hand, are concerned that if there are no offers like the discounts, they would lose a large number of tourists.

“Especially with the student discount, when overseas students travel in groups, they bring a large number of tourists, but now that discount is no longer available. We may lose student tourists,” said one of the tour operators.

Further, the Director General said the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) is not governed by the Tourism Levy Act 2020.

“Therefore, it is being dealt with separately under the Tourism Rules and Regulations 2017. For now, the same two MDPR rates are in force USD 250 and USD 200 per person per day depending on the season.”  

On the budgetary measures such as the revival of bridge loan, deferment of EMI payments until the industry recovers, marketing subsidy, and airfare subsidy under the fiscal measures proposed by the ABTO, Dorji Dhradhul said, “While the TCB can examine and recommend to the Royal Government, I believe that this matter is being taken up by the Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) with the government.”   

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu