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