It is a heartening news that Bhutan will reopen its borders in September to welcome tourists after a hiatus of more than two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the country reopens to tourism, one certain thing we can expect going by the recent reforms that have occurred in the sector is that the same old ways of how we used to handle tourists from their bookings to their arrival and stay in the country will not suffice.
The government’s rationale for increasing the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) to USD 200 per night for a tourist from the earlier USD 65 is to make Bhutan a high-end tourist destination.
As we have already ventured into making Bhutan a high-end tourist destination, it is equally important to give them the services and experience equal to that of the new SDF or of a high-end tourist destination. We must now endeavor to live up to the reputation of a high-end tourist destination.
To begin with something small, we can consider revising and improving standards for the main service providers like hoteliers, guides, tour operators, and drivers. This is important because these are the main people engaging tourists. Raising these standards or the ones that have existed before the Covid-19 period is important if we are to boost service quality.
Another small thing that we can start with is how do we make a trip or a stay for a tourist or a group of tourists memorable and worthy of a high-end destination. The best thing here is to begin by changing the same old itineraries that all our tour operators have developed for every tourist coming to Bhutan. The existing itineraries are designed to make tourists visit Dzongs after Dzongs, temples after temples, and spend more than half of their day in a bus or an SUV, traveling from one district to another.
And most often, tourists coming to Bhutan have to be explained by tour operators or guides, about the mediocre services in terms of the quality of food and accommodation, as they move further away from Thimphu and Punakha to places like Bumthang and Trashigang. It is equally important to up the services, both in terms of the quality and delivery, even in places in the central and eastern regions if we are to live up to the reputation of a high-end tourist destination.
Besides facilitating adequate amenities like restrooms along the highways and timely official paperwork and approvals, another small thing is how we can ease and make banking and payment issues of tourists less cumbersome in the country. Tourists can be encouraged to make use of the digital wallet apps and services such as the goBoB and B-Wallet, which are ideal for them.
The mere task of hiking up the SDF will not make us a high-end tourist destination.