To mark 30 years of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Japan, Japanese tourists will be exempted from the minimum daily tariff of USD 200 a person during the lean season months of June, July, and August, this year.
Japanese tourists will also be provided 50 percent discounts on airfare and accommodation, among other flexibilities.
This is a fitting gesture towards Japan, for after all, Japan has been assisting Bhutan for half a century. Bhutan has undoubtedly benefited immensely from Japanese tax payer money and will continue to do so as made apparent by the recent visit of the new president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The waiving of the minimum daily tariff rate is a small way of conveying our gratitude.
But our tour agents are not happy.
Not because Japanese tourists will not have to pay them USD 200, but because they were not consulted, their arguments not heeded, and their opinions not heard.
For one, they argue that the Thais are now aware that they would be overpaying and as a result marketing Bhutan in Thailand is now more difficult. A similar arrangement occurred for Thai tourists when the two countries marked 25 years of diplomatic relations in 2014.
Indeed, by waiving the package rate, and allowing our tour agents to compete on the tariff, which as a result drops, it does seem to indicate that the real price of visiting Bhutan is lower than USD 200.
We now know how the tour agents feel about the Thai promotional year. The question is, why don’t we know what the Tourism Council of Bhutan found out about the Thai experiment. Was it a success? Did the doing away of the minimum daily tariff result in a volume of Thai tourists enough to make up or exceed the benefits of having kept the USD 200 rate in place? This is information the media has no access to.
Tour agents have also called for the waiver of the required daily package for all countries during the lean seasons. This could be the logical way forward both from a business standpoint and a diplomatic one.
The Japanese and Thai promotions were based on celebrations of relations and collaboration between countries. Bhutan has many other donor countries that it receives support from and collaborates with. Questions could be raised why citizens of these countries also do not receive the same benefit and acknowledgement when visiting Bhutan as tourists.
Both the government and the private sector have their points. But the way forward is unclear and needs to be determined with the other tourism stakeholders fully on board.