Tour operators express their dissatisfaction with TCB

The lack of clarity in the information from the TCB to tour operators creates a rift in the sector, according to the ABTO’s chairman

Following a number of different notifications issued by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), tour operators met with Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, who is also the chairperson of the TCB, to discuss the problems and the confusion of tour operators on July 29, 2022.

One of the key problems raised by tour operators is the lack of clarity in the information provided by the TCB.

The Executive Director of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji, said, “The TCB simply releases one press release after another without even consulting any of the stakeholders or examining the viability.”

“Therefore, there is a lot of confusion among tour operators and they intend to seek clarification from the Lyonpo,” he added.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) had been eliminated and the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) had been raised in order to make changes to the tourism statute impossible.

“The creation of rules and regulations, however, is still in our power, and we will act accordingly as we examine the issues at hand,” the minister said.

The ABTO also sought clarification on the discounts.

According to the ABTO’s Executive Director, they have requested the Prime Minister to allow discounts which are in the Tourism Act of 2017.

“However, the most recent criteria is confusing and states that there would be discounts but not on the SDF. But SDFs are used for a majority of significant discounts like duration discounts,” he added.

Sonam Dorji also inquired about the validation and certification of tour operators, hoteliers, and guides that the TCB is performing right now.

“However, as per the act, the use of tour operators is optional, yet they are required to have a proper office and four employees under each. So what is the use of having all the licenses, validation, and other things?” he asked.

The monument fees were another issue for the tour operators.

“It states with immediate effect. For at least eight monument locations and eight more to be added by September 23rd. But when tourists booked the tour, the monuments fees weren’t applied and now it is,” Sonam Dorji said.

The ABTO also sought clarification on the bookings of tours prior to June 20.

“Although travelers who made their reservations before June 20 are permitted to enter the country with the SDF of USD 65 until December 31, currently the rules state that travel itineraries must be presented by August 30. However, the travel itinerary should be kept flexible if we can produce the confirmation correspondence,” ABTO’s chairman Sonam Tobgye said.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji reaffirmed that he fully supports the tour operators and that provisions will be made to assist them.

“The draft of the rules and regulations is prepared, and I guarantee you that it is not like the act; the rules and regulations can be altered at any time.”

The minister added that no significant problem cannot be addressed or resolved by the act’s rules and regulations.

To avoid problems or competition from foreign tour operators, Lyonpo also mentioned that there has been discussion about allowing tour operators to establish their own dollar accounts.

While many of the tour operators in attendance were pleased to hear the good news from the TCB’s chairperson, they also expressed their desire to be included while consulting the act’s rules and regulations.

They added that they have been in the industry for some time and view the TCB as their parent agent.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu