Brand Bhutan’s tagline “Believe” cannot be separated from the tourism industry. It may have been a mere coincidence when the new brand was launched coinciding with Bhutan re-opening its borders to tourists after three long years. 

If it is linked to tourism, we are not helping ourselves in promoting Bhutan to the outside world. Going by the recent issues in the tourism sector, many would believe that we are indecisive in our policies and that our efforts to promote Bhutan as a high-end destination or the policy of high value low volume are not real.  

Allowing select tour operators to bring in tourists at the old rate, long after the deadline and sowing seeds of discord within the industry, would be a bottleneck for those sincerely believing and promoting Bhutan as a high-end destination. It has, like a tour operator said, damaged what they had been doing since the new SDF was introduced. 

The government has considered, on the request of tour operators or their association, to let tourists who confirmed their visit before the Covid crisis disrupted the industry visit Bhutan on the old rates.  Evidence like confirmation on social media pages were also accepted to help tour operators. It did help many offset the loss from the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, the tourism industry is known for fine-tuning their tricks with undercutting each other being the main problem.  An opportunity was provided to clean it and make Bhutan an exclusive destination. Some dragged it down by resorting to the same old tricks.

Revoking the approval to the tour operator following complaints from other tour operators is a good decision. If the company was looking for tourists to visit Bhutan at the old rates, it was not a competitive edge, it was damaging to the efforts of rebranding Bhutan. For the government, accusations started flying that the tour company was a big supporter and a sponsor of the party. 

The government, aware of the concerns of the industry, is now looking into introducing incentives and concessions. If approved, there will be promotional discounts on the $200 SDF for tourists who want a longer stay in the country, waivers for under-18 tourists to promote family packages, waivers for trekkers and so on.

The considerations are practical, even if some feel that the average SDF would be around the old rate with the concessions. It is quite odd for a big group of trekkers to pay $200 a day and spend nine of the 14 days in tents in the mountains, for instance. 

While both policy-makers and those in the industry are looking for the best solution, we must ensure that all loopholes are plugged. The current issue of taking advantage or misusing the relaxation will not help anyone. It was a good lesson.