To strengthen cooperation and guide relations between the tour operators and hoteliers, the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) signed an agreement in Thimphu yesterday.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two key tourism stakeholders underlines the importance of developing institutional, trade and business relations in order to establish a sustainable mechanism of dialogue and platform for discussions.

ABTO’s executive director Sonam Dorji said tourism involves multi-sectoral agencies and even within the private sector, it is huge and fragmented. “Having such kind of MoU binds the agencies together. The MoU will not only benefit individual members of both the associations but the country at large.”

Sonam Dorji said communication would be one of the biggest achievements. “Through close dialogue and network, we expect to resolve issues.”

Without a standard guideline and agreement in place, Sonam Dorji said the issues have to be dealt with individually by the associations.

Concerns related to hotel and restaurants, payments, credit, booking, and cancellations are some of the issues the associations face.

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.

After the signing, the first step will be to establish a joint action committee, which will look into operational issues that both the sectors face.

The committee will be formed with representatives from the board of both the associations, which then will come up with terms of reference within which the overall tourism development and particularly resolving day to day operational issues will be discussed, Sonam Dorji said.

HRAB’s chairman, Thinley Palden Dorji said tourism is an important sector and it has been doing well in the last few years. “With its growth has come issues and we need to solve it by working together,” he said. “Today is the first formal step in trying to build a relationship to solve some of the issues.”

ABTO has close to 700 active members. Of more than 2,000 tour operators in the country, only about 600 are operational.

Sonam Dorji said about 99 percent of all tour operators who are in the business are members of ABTO.

HRAB has 120 members including budget and star rated hotels.

Dechen Tshomo