Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Covid-19 pandemic walloped the tourism sector, but Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is considering it as an opportunity to reboot the industry and give it a new face post-Covid-19.

TCB’s chairperson and Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji at the meet the press yesterday said that although the pandemic wreaked havoc in many areas, this is a chance to work on the tourism policy to make tourism efficient.

“With high value, low volume in mind, this is the time we can develop a stronger policy,” Lyonpo said. “This situation has been a lesson for us to realise that we should have a strong policy to protect workers, as they were the worst affected.”

Lyonpo said that the other activities are to beautify the tourist sites, redevelop or create new ones, and also look into waste management. 

The plan also includes diversifying handicraft products and exploring tourist attractions beyond culture and nature tours.

Another major transformation is enhancing and strengthening procedures for tourists to come to Bhutan. Currently, tour booking is a lengthy procedure and sometimes takes a year. The system has been in place since tourism first began in 1974.

According to TCB’s Director General Dorji Dhradhul, this is one of the major complaints from tourists. The tourist has to book through a local operator, pay advance through their bank, which is challenging.

“We’re now relooking into these procedures to see how we can strengthen and make them easier for tourists without hampering the tourism policy.”

He added that TCB will look into making payment easier building on the digitalisation drive and institute an efficient visa or route permit procedure.

“We’re not saying we’ll do away with the current procedures. We’ll study the services and make recommendations to ensure tourists experience fewer hassles.”

He said that TCB has already instituted a working group that is looking into transforming tourism with three objectives: reacting, rethinking, and recovery post-Covid-19 focusing on the approach to new tourism.

“We can do so many things right now since there is no tourist in the country,” he added. “The tourism stimulus package that is developed will also contribute to the transformation of tourism.”

Dorji Dhradhul said that for instance, one common complain from tourists is about the lack of toilet facilities. So TCB is looking into developing roadside amenities and build with toilets and assign a caretaker including a convenience store or café.

“We’re also looking into promoting domestic tourism and programmes are being designed,” he said. “One of the programmes is to develop Druk Nyekor, which is already in advance stage and it will also cater to international tourists.”

He said that TCB will identify 108 religious sites and lhakhangs to take people on pilgrims. A booklet would be issued to record and seal every time a person visits these sites until they complete 108.

“We’re expecting to start maybe in about three months and in the first phase, we’ll start with 16 sites in Thimphu. The seal on the booklet is to recognise their own achievement for being able to visit the sites.”

The director general said that TCB is also exploring spiritual, wellness and wellbeing tourism.

He added that with Bhutan being known as the land of medicinal herbs, peaceful surrounding, and with GNH, Bhutan is an attractive destination for travellers to reflect, relax and rest.

Bhutan today has no tourist after the only tourist in the country left Bhutan earlier this week. The only tourist left in the country was the woman who tested positive for Covid-19 on March 20.

The tourist ban after the pandemic has resulted in a national revenue loss of USD 4.4 million after 2,550 international tourists cancelled due to Covid-19 between January 15 and March 23. It excludes cancellations from regional tourists.

However, about 200 tourists have still kept their bookings on and not cancelled with the hope to visit Bhutan after the pandemic according to the director general.