Tour operators call for policy to govern regional tourists

Tourism: In an effort to decongest the space outside the Memorial Choeten in Thimphu, the Royal Bhutan Police has designated the parking space as a pick and drop zone.

As one of the most visited site, chief of police Brigadier Kipchu Namgyal said, the area remains congested all the time. “It gets worse during the peak tourists seasons,” he said, adding that drivers hardly used the parking space in the peripheries.

“This compromises safety of elderly citizens who frequent the Choeten besides tourists,” Brigadier Kipchu Namgyal said.

On the issue of overcrowding of other tourist sites, Brigadier Kipchu Namgyal said that if need be, the agencies concerned will identify the places accordingly and implement the same rule.

Overcrowding of tourist sites like monasteries and choeten is an recurring issue that the industry faces especially with the increase in unguided regional tourists.

For instance, more than 1,000 visitors including tourists visit the Taktshang monastery in Paro every day. This has also led to the dzongkhag tshogdu calling a no-visit day every Tuesdays.

Tourism Council of Bhutan records show that a total of 99,709 tourist arrivals as of August 31 of which 32,877 were international and 66,832 regional visitors.

While this is an overall increase of 30.83 percent, international tourist arrivals this season saw a drop of 14.62 percent. As of August 31, records indicate an increase of 77.25 percent of regional visitors against the same period last year.

The annual tourism report also indicates a steady increase in regional tourists over the years. From 50,722 tourist arrivals in 2012, it increased to 63,426 and 65,399 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives are referred to as regional tourists.

Unlike international tourists, regional tourists exempt from paying the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and 200 for the peak and lean seasons. They do not require visas to enter the country.

Management of visitors at the tourist sites, according to observers, has become essential as most tourist sites in Bhutan are temples and monasteries. They said the monasteries and dzongs in Bhutan are living institutions unlike museums or castles in other countries where they are just structures.

It is also found that some apartments in the capital are rented out to the regional tourists, a majority of whom are budget travellers, bringing in their own utensils, vehicles and vegetables as well.

Even when staying in hotels, hoteliers catering to regional tourists said that most prefer to cook on their own and about three to five tourists share a room. Although there are many hotels that don’t allow such arrangements, some do.

Meanwhile, following the huge increase in the arrival of regional tourists, tour operators have called for a policy intervention for regional tourists. They have raised the issue to the government through the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators.

Tourism stakeholders expressed the need for a proper strategy on management and maximizing benefits through regional tourists. The existing tourism rules and regulations, tour operators said are geared towards only dollar paying tourists and not regional tourists.

Tourism stakeholders also highlighted the need for proper management and monitoring of regional tourists with increasing accidents.

Most regional tourists enter the country unguided using their own vehicles without any restriction, which tourism agencies said was a concern. They said that the carrying capacity of the Indian vehicles differs from that of what is implemented in the country.

For instance, an Indian registered Mahindra bolero comes with a carrying capacity of nine persons while in Bhutan it’s five.

Kinga Dema