A major shake up in the tourism sector?

Tourists are not required to come through travel agencies as per draft EDP 

Policy: Amidst debate that sparked off after the National Council’s review of the tourism policy, the tourism sector could see a major overhaul in its modus operandi, should the draft Economic Development Policy (EDP) materialize.

Bhutan would no longer be a “high-end” destination but an “exclusive” tourist destination, if the draft gets the green signal from the government.

Tourists will no longer be required to come through a travel agency, as per the recommendation of the EDP task force. Visitors are rather required to pay a sustainable development fee (SDF)- a new name for the current royalty charged, and show the confirmations of guide, vehicle and hotel reservation, airline booking, and travel itinerary before they are issued visas.

However the economic affairs minister,  Norbu Wangchuk said the document is still in a draft stage and would require a lot of discussions before it becomes a policy.

“The tariff we have currently reflects the very philosophy of the tourism sector,” he said. Cautioning that his views didn’t represent the government’s, Lyonpo said: “Unless there are compelling reasons, we should not meddle with the tariff.”

Should the draft come to force without change, tourists would be provided with visitors card at the point of entry that provides access to all historical, cultural and other tourist sites.  The value of the card will be equivalent to the visa fees and the SDF.

Going by the draft EDP, the sustainable development fee shall be the sole mechanism to promote high value low impact tourism. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) would set SDF on a monthly basis at the beginning of the year to ensure distribution of the tourist inflow throughout the year and by region. The draft also recommends lower fees in the months when the tourist arrivals are low and higher fees during peak season.

For tourists staying longer than 10 days, lower fees would be levied and a discount on SDF would be offered for repeat visitors from their second visit. However, the government can exempt or lower the SDF to visitors from select countries during lean seasons for a fixed duration.

“The government while maintaining the SDF opens the industry to more choice, competition and direct benefits to all stakeholders,” states the draft.

The TCB will be responsible to ensure that tourists are accommodated in accordance with the itinerary. The guide or the agent chosen by the client would be responsible to confirm that the tourists follow the itinerary and the hotels shall report to the TCB in case the client does not check in as per their booking.

Besides, the draft also suggests TCB to develop incentives by the first quarter of next year to promote and encourage repeat visitors with a target to achieve 10 percent repeat visitors within five years.

TCB, as per the draft should also engage in coming up with a pre-booking mechanism and time allocation as per the capacity of the attractions to avoid over-crowding of popular tourist attractions.

The draft EDP also recommends the government to adopt a tourism policy by 2016, tourism Act by 2017, develop infrastructures and improve access to facilitate movement of visitors into and within the country.

It is also aimed at spreading 50 percent of visitors to south, central and eastern regions.

By Tshering Dorji

4 replies
  1. FTS
    FTS says:

    The new recommendations had already been a long time in coming. It will bring forth lots of fruits across a broader section of local Bhutanese, many of whom had for long seen only dwindling benefits of tourism by the time it trickles down to them.

    Tourists had been put off by the length of time negotiating their itinerary with travel agents. The world outside is all about speed. Yet many agents in Bhutan still take their time to reply. When replies finally come, often incomplete, incomprehensible, frustrating. After this hurdle, next shock – – it takes days to weeks to get the visa processed. Multitudes of tourists eventually find alternative destinations, to the delight of other tourism boards.

    The trend worldwide now sees many travel agents closing down physical offices to operate as online travel agents. Even with this upgrade, many passengers are now attuned to booking their own ticketing online, booking their own hotels online, and even booking their own tour guide and driver online. In fact, in many countries with terrains like Bhutan (where one cannot do without a driver or driver-cum-guide), guides or drivers never need fear loss of livelihood. They earn more directly from tourists than during the era when they could render their services to tourists only by working as hires of licensed travel agents. More and more customers in tech-savvy countries (almost majority of Bhutan’s tourist composition) these days prefer to plan their own itinerary than leave it in the hands of a travel agent.

    This is not a new trend of fashion which changes by the season but a trend of reality that is here to stay. Resist it and be left behind.

    The key point then remains whether the sons and daughters of Bhutan, and concerned parties, can do a good job of preserving Bhutan’s values and customs in the face of mass tourism. Culture and tradition from adverse impact of unruly tourists or even locals can be addressed by applying various modes of policing and the application of entrance fees or passes to treasured sites. In this, Bhutan has excellent guardians of the faith, and potential guards who could be entrusted with responsibilities of the watch, who if given the opportunity to be mobilized, would allow everyone to reap the rewards of the new policy.

  2. Aya Kakuma
    Aya Kakuma says:

    I am a Japanese national who just had a very pleasant week in Bhutan recently. I’d like to share what I think about the new plan for the “tourist tariff” or royalty.
    The royalty, which will have a new name “Sustainable Development Fee” (SDF), might vary on a monthly basis depending on whether it is high or low season, the length of time tourists stay, and for repeat visitors.
    I like the idea of changing the name to SDF, as it is intended to benefit the local population by going towards such things as free education, healthcare, and to protect the environment of the country.
    And since tourists will still require guide, driver, hotel reservation and airline booking, there will still be a demand for travel agents and tour operators.
    Talking about guide, driver and hotel staff, don’t forget they’re the frontline people who represent the country. They play a big role in keeping tourists happy and making them want to repeat their visit. I do hope these people are working under 100% happiness conditions, such as getting proper accommodation during a tour and getting tips from their guests (I heard some tourists don’t tip because they think tips are included in the high tariff).
    GNH is for the Bhutanese first, rather than tourists. The priority is the people and their country. You should keep your unique culture and beautiful country as they are as much as possible.
    People visit your country because they are interested in it, and if they have a good time and are able to share in the GNH, they’ll come back despite the relatively high cost. In fact, I’m at least one person who is planning my next visit.
    The important thing is that the new tariff or SDF continues to go towards local people’s happiness.

    Aya Kakuma

  3. Drukgel-lo
    Drukgel-lo says:

    So, what happens to the travel agent that exit. They should work on solving the undrcutting problem not up root the whole tree. Last time they terminated 34 REC employer. Now with this idiotic policy lots of job will be lost. If I am out of job, I will resort to just one solution.

    • Bhutan Guide
      Bhutan Guide says:

      When the NC’s effort to research on the Tourism Industry is appreciated and praised beyond words,but I would like to make some comments on the particular point on liberalizing the tarriff. Working in the tourism field for some years now I have been enjoying the fruit through the policies framed by our wise and farsighted leaders. The existing daily tarriff is working out so well as giving Bhutan a brand name as one of the HIGH END DESTINATIONS. Tourists that we talked to appreciate this wise policy and standard,they even suggest for increasing the tarriff because Bhutan is is worth the price. Should liberalising the tarriff happens, in the next few years I can see Bhutan like any of our neighbouring countries. Yes, for now for few years we are going to see increase in tourist arrivals…but will it gaurantee sustainability? Everyone knows the answer. Liberalizing tarriff will promote mass tourism,with mass tourism we are not far from losing our valued and unique culture. It is very important for us to know that Culture is Bhutan’s product to bring in visitors. Its disheartening to see our selected policy makers to have never thought of the consequences that would follow for liberalising tarriff. Yes, developing infrastructure and changing policies for good is a thumps up but the liberalizing tarriff is not. I am a citizen of Bhutan first and a guide. I am concerned as much as our fellow stakeholders in the tourism industry.

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