In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, Bhutan closed all its borders beginning March 23, 2020. While many thought that it would be a temporary measure, as the corona virus began depicting its disastrous capacity all around the world, the borders remained closed. Though the world is not yet free from the virus, the world, including Bhutan went for the new normal. Still, Bhutan did not open its borders, for so much was at stake.
However, the borders will now open on September 23, 2022 formally. The commercial capital of the country, Phuentsholing, which bore the brunt of the pandemic the most, is preparing for the opening. Similarly, Paro Airport’s international terminal has become busier. Tour operators are also getting ready, while some guides are undertaking refreshing courses in their own houses – worried that they may have forgotten what they knew, due to the long gap.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has submitted the draft rules and regulations of the Tourism Levy Act 2022 to the Cabinet for endorsement. With just a week left, it is uncertain if the cabinet will even have a look at the draft before endorsement. However, the consolation lies in the belief that the Council may have sought suggestions from the cabinet as it was being prepared. Additionally, the TCB involved important stakeholders of the industry before submission to the cabinet. Thus, the draft rules and regulations have been framed taking all related into consideration.
On the other side, it is a nervous period for Bhutanese, especially those working in the services sector. With the sustainable development fee (SDF) for dollar paying tourists increased to USD 200 per day per tourist, no one can play the astrologer and say that tourists will not come. Neither can they say that tourists will come.
But a major factor, which would determine the future of tourism will be the services offered to those tourists who are coming based on the earlier SDF of USD 65 and the few for whom USD 200 SDF does not seem to be a concern. And when we are talking about service, we are referring to the reception offered by our airlines; behavior of guides; services at hotels and others.
What we should bear in mind is that September 23, 2022 is akin to the first time Bhutan opened its doors to tourism in 1974. It is the second opening and for those paying USD 200 SDF, the first opening. Just as our guides and service providers here are considered ambassadors of the country, the first batch of tourists paying USD 200 SDF will be Bhutan’s marketing agents.
Their words about Bhutan will not just matter. It will matter a lot.