Tourism stakeholders say so while the Prime Minister feels otherwise

Tourism: In the wake of various issues confronting the industry today, coordination issues between tourism stakeholders and the government has left the industry in doldrums, according to tourism stakeholders.

The stakeholders are of the view that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and the government hardly consult the industry when it comes to major decisions. They also said that the industry is in dire need of better support and attention.

Some of the prominent issues confronting the industry today are the drastic rise in regional tourists against drop in international tourists, hotel occupancy, equal spread of tourism benefits, seasonality and the alleged undercutting practices.

The industry has been grappling with these issues for more than four decades.

Tour operators said that international tourist arrivals has dropped since last year and is expected to drop further this year despite the Bhutan-Japan friendship offer.

“To make the situation worse, regional tourists arrivals are on the rise drastically, which we feel would further contribute to drop in international tourists,” said one tour operator. “This is the time when TCB and the government needs to act.”

Stakeholders said that seasonality has always been an issue for the industry while nothing has been done so far. They said the hotels’ and Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) came to a consensus and requested the government to open up during the off-season. However, they said they haven’t heard anything from the government yet.

Citing the issue of Taktshang and the Bhutan-Japan friendship offer, most stakeholders said that it came as a big surprise. “The association, on behalf of tour operators, after receiving complaints from TOs who cater to Japanese market wrote to the government against it,” another tour operator said.

Tour operators said that the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer was also initiated despite reservations from tour operators. “At least we were consulted on it, although late,” a tour operator said.

Stakeholders are also of the opinion that the Council as an apex body doesn’t meet enough to address such issues. Tourism industry, as the second revenue generator, and an important sector, they deserves much more.

Emphasising on the importance of consultation to address issues, Guides Association of Bhutan’s (GAB) president Garab Dorji, also a Council board member, said that the Council did not meet for about six months now. “Even among ourselves (tourism industry) wherein multiple stakeholders are involved, consultations are must for a way forward,” he said.

Ad hoc decisions, Garab Dorji said, affects the overall industry. “Coordination is not just an issue in the tourism industry but an issue in many agencies,” he said. “Any decision in the tourism industry has a lasting impact. If the sector is to grow, a major shake up is required.”

Despite such issues, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, as the chairman of the Council, clarified that TCB consulted the stakeholders as far as possible. In doing so, Lyonchoen said that stakeholders should not say that no consultations were held when they don’t get what they want.

“Secondly, when there is an opportunity, stakeholders must attend meetings,” Lyonchoen said, at the meet-the-press session last week. “Given the high number of stakeholders involved, it is not easy to please all of them.”

With regard to the Taktshang closure, Lyonchoen said it was Paro Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s decision and not TCB’s.

The Bhutan-Japan friendship offer, he said was decided by the Cabinet in appreciation of the ties between people of the two countries to commemorate 30 years of diplomatic relations.

“After the Cabinet endorsed it, TCB consulted the stakeholders and announced it in a meeting that presidents of GAB, ABTO and hotels association, among others,” Lyonchoen said. Besides, he said that the special rates provided during the offer period indicates that the hoteliers, airlines and tour operators were consulted.

On the Council not meeting adequately to address issues on tourism, Lyonchoen said is not true. “As the chairman of the Council, we have met six times in two and a half years,” he said. “During the previous government’s tenure, five Council meetings were held in five years.”

Considering the importance of tourism, Lyonchoen said that they have held six Council meetings already although he has always emphasised that they should meet at least four times a year. “This means we should have held 10 Council meetings so far and we need to meet more often.”

Kinga Dema