For the tourism sector, 2018 was about strengthening cooperation among the stakeholders.

Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) last year signed an agreement in June to strengthen cooperation and guide relations between the tour operators and hoteliers.

The MoU is expected to establish collaboration between the two parties based on a spirit of partnership in which both seek to share, enhance and complement each other’s strengths, expertise and resources, underpinning the principle of high value, low impact approach for tourism development in Bhutan.

On September 27, coinciding with World Tourism Day, Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society was launched in Thimphu to create a platform for all tourism agencies to come together to share, inspire and support the growth of sustainable tourism in Bhutan.

A study to assess ecotourism impact on the livelihood of the local communities and its contribution to the conservation of environment and culture by the Gross National Happiness Commission in April last year found that ecotourism had a positive impact on local communities.

The income generated from the home stays and campsites in the country helped improve family income, conservation of the environment, tradition and culture.

The operation of homestays witnessed an increasing trend over the years and the majority of homestay operators were female, representing the contribution of women in household decision-making.

As of April last year, there were about 117 registered homestays in 11 dzongkhags.

Wangdue had 28 homestays, the highest in the country, followed by 23 in Haa and 19 in Lhuntse. Bumthang had 14 and the rest of the dzongkhags had three to nine homestays. Mongar and Trashigang had one each.

On July 24, the former prime minister met with the Phuentsholing regional immigration officials and discussed ways to improve immigration services for regional tourists. Establishing a token system, making Phuentsholing a tourist destination, and shifting focus on online permit were some of the issues discussed.

Stressing on the economic benefits regional tourists bring about and the increasing influx of regional tourists, mostly from neighbouring India, former prime minister said it was important to provide the best immigration services.

The male dog year also saw several issues unfold in the tourism sector.

Bhutanese condemned French artist’s graffiti on religious monuments. Former prime minister, during one of the meet the press sessions, said that the French artist’s graffiti on holy sites and public places in the country was a serious offence.

The artist was severely criticism after he posted a video clip of an installed art piece that resembled a Tibetan mandala made of tiles on a wall inside Cheri monastery. The artworks were later removed.

The year also saw HRAB sue four tour operators for the nonpayment of bills to some 22 hoteliers in the country.

It was learned that the four tour agents had not paid the service charges worth more than Nu 3 million to several hoteliers for a long period of time even after receiving money for the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

A mishap on August 12, which claimed a person’s life, resulted in a temporary ban on rafting activities in Punakha. TCB lifted the ban on August 31.

while TCB is yet to reveal last year’s arrival figure, statistical bulletin of the Royal Monetary Authority showed that the country received 37,994 international tourists as of September last year generating revenue of USD 48.7 million.

The recently concluded National Assembly session, endorsed entry and exit of regional tourist through the border towns of Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nganglam, and Panbang.  However, the government later clarified that the tourist entry points would be opened on need basis.

Dechen Tshomo