Concerns on the increasing number of regional tourists in the country, minimum tourists during low seasons, domestic tourists visiting places outside Bhutan for pilgrimage and uneven distribution of tourism activities in different dzongkhags were shared at the joint sitting of the parliament on December 6.

National Council’s MP for Chukha, Pema Tenzin said that tourism activities began in 1974 and in the past, the number of international tourists were high. “However, in 2015 from the total of 155,000 tourists, 70 percent is regional tourist. The regulation should be made stronger.”

However, economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji, said that apart from the concerns, regional tourists have also benefitted the handicraft sector, small hotels and taxi drivers.

He said that when the government discussed the issue, small hotels and tourist guides shared their concerns on the impact of regional tourists to individual businesses. To monitor and regulate regional tourists in the country, mandatory entry fees in tourist sites and an e-permit system are in place in Phuentsholing.

Lyonpo said that a study is being conducted to assess if the e-permit system could also be set up in Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu.

On concerns of less tourists visiting during low tourist seasons, Lyonpo Lekey Dorji, said that to increase tourist arrivals visit during low tourist seasons, special friendship offers were made to Thailand and Japan in the past.

He added that this year, a friendship offer was also provided to South Korea to celebrate 30 years of friendship. “In the past, less than 1,000 South Korean tourists visited our country. However, this year the number increased to 5,000. A friendship offer to Australia has also been submitted.”

While supporting the recommendation of drafting a tourism policy, Drukjeygang Tseza MP, Karma Dorji, said that the policy should also include plans to promote dzongkhags with capacity to promote tourism. “Domestic tourists visiting places out of Bhutan for pilgrimage also means an outflow of money. We should make plans to keep them within Bhutan. Bhutan has many sacred places and people should be encouraged to visit those sites.”

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has reported to consolidate the programmes of local government of the 12th Plan with TCB’s to integrate tourism activities in the Plan. It was also informed that TCB is working on opening a regional tourism office in the east and central region to facilitate tourism development.

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said that in the past there weren’t any regulations in place to monitor domestic tourists visiting pilgrimage sites outside Bhutan. “We have papers to regulate the outflow of domestic tourists today.”

A recommendation was made by Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi to fix a deadline for the completion of tourism policy, which is being drafted today. However, because tourism council has already submitted an action plan on the drafting of the policy, the need for a deadline was felt unnecessary.

Phurpa Lhamo