Tour guides worried over sustainability issue

TCB’s transformation as DoT to empower tourism

Even as skeptics question TCB’s transformation as DoT, roughly 15,000 guests visited Bhutan after the reopening

Amongst agencies and departments that have returned to where they started because of the restructuring, one is the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), which is back with the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) as Department of Tourism (DoT).

While some stakeholders are apprehensive about this, especially taking in context transformation in the tourism industry, officials are optimistic and have their reasons for the particular restructuring. 

According to the restructuring, there will be the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MOICE), which will be the tourism departments’ parent ministry, until the ministry is formed, it will function under the MoEA. It will replace the other ministries that have been transformed or merged as a result of the civil service reform.  Economic Minister Loknath Sharma,  said that the rationale behind merging the tourism industry in the ministry is “the critical need for an empowered national tourism organization to facilitate effective coordination, infrastructure development, resources allocation and strengthening regulatory and support functions to achieve a paradigm shift in the tourism sector.”

He also added that the agency, in considering tourism as a valuable strategic asset, must be able to promote sustainable tourism for the benefit of all sections of society and across generations.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) was established in 2008. It was previously under the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. While under the Ministry, the tourism industry proposed to strengthen its autonomy and operate in a manner similar to any corporate entity and provide policy oversight and direction for sustainable tourism development.

Experts on tourism say that the TCB, Bhutan’s national tourism body, has contributed to economic growth and gainful employment, elevating Bhutan to the status of a premier travel destination. Nonetheless, there are issues, too.

“However, we are today highly disconnected from our aspiration of being an exclusive destination and we have somehow lost sight of our principles and values,” Director General (DG), Dorji Dhradhul said.

While the tourism sector is slowly improving and making the shifts from the pandemic, the number of guests received in two months, (September 23rd – December 4th 2022), is still small.

As of December 4, 2022, about 15,000 visitors have come to Bhutan since the borders were reopened.

DG, DoT stated that although the number was small, it was anticipated.

“Although the number is tiny, it is anticipated not due to a shift or a rise in SDF but rather because of the pandemic, and another factors, such as the increase in air fares globally,” he said.

Out of the 15,000 guest, roughly around 5,000 has come with the old Sustainable Development fee (SDF) of USD 65. 5,000 are guests coming in, paying the revised and new SDF of USD 200 and the others were Indian tourists.

According to Dorji Dhradhul, DoT is working non-stop. “We’ve designated our focal persons in the Embassies Mission Councils (EMCs), and we’ve also hired an ex-pat as the promotion’s chief marketing officer,” he continued, noting that another step is inviting well-known journalists from all across the world.

“Around 30 media people have reached out to us thus far,” he added.

The DG further mentioned that with the COVID 19 pandemic having passed, showing effects on various industries, particularly the tourism industry, “we have learned our lesson and the nation now recognizes tourism as one of its strengths.”

He said that as part of the overall transformation the nation has embarked on and as per the guideline and framework for Civil Service reform, all the existing autonomous agencies are being folded under relevant ministries for the purpose of better coordination and effective and efficient public service delivery.

As per the State of Nation Report 2022, which was delivered by the Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering on December 8, 2022 to the Parliament, “while the new tourism strategy aims to redefine the role and contribution of tourism to our economy, it also encompasses a new national brand to target conscious travelers who are appreciative of and sensitive to our culture, heritage and values, and willing to contribute towards the preservation of our authentic immersive experiences.”

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu