This is in response to the National Council’s recent recommendation on the liberalization of the daily tourism tariff.
The fact that there has been a steady increase in the number of new tour operators over the years, from a mere single digit in the 1970’s to about 1,700 hundred tour operators today, shows the present tourism policy was never confined to a select few.
Four years ago, I along with my six friends was out of job and exploring business ideas. The tourism policy and regulations were so conducive and protective that we all went into the tourism business. Thanks to the “high value low impact policy” it not only benefited the country but us too, being new in the market with no capital and only with some researched data in hand. The tourism industry was never confined to few but was open for all interested and each had their share of the pie depending on their hard work and quality of services delivered.
Now, how certain are we and from which angle does one get the assurance that if the daily tourism tariff is liberalized, the number of tourists visiting Bhutan will fairly be distributed amongst all the 1,700 tour operators? If this is not a personal assumption then there must be a mathematical solution whereby the liberalization of the daily tariff will equate to fair distribution of tourist to all concerned parties.
And, even if this holistic fabulous approach succeeds, are we encouraging a healthy competition and creating a level playing field among the players in the market? Or will this make the well established few tour companies with their own fleet of cars and hotels all over the places take the edge over the middle and small/new tour companies by offering the lowest price to the tourists? With the price into play and a consumer’s basic instinct to go for the lowest price, will this not knock out the middle and small/new tour companies off the tourism industry for good?
The more danger also lies in the background, which is even bleaker. Let us not forget our country getting run down by mass tourism with negative impact on the environment and community. Let us also consider the frightening impact it will have on our fragile youth as a result of cheap tourism and influx of poor quality tourists. Can we afford to turn a blind eye on the negative impacts of this liberalization?
Similar concerns were shared by all of the people I met and they also voiced the same unease. While I appreciate the National Council’s Economic Affairs Committee and their initiative for equitable socio-economic development, such recommendations also makes me doubt a little on whether there are any vested interests based on the select people and those from the tourism industry who called and applauded the recommendations.
Let us not murder this highly prized tourism industry (even widely appreciated in the international market for its noble tourism policy) as a result of some good orators, just because they can make valid opinions to an apparently ‘doing very well, no change required’ situation. If we are to make any changes in the current policy, let us be practical and be fully convinced to apply for change in the larger interest of the country.
It is interesting to note that some of our learned and Honorable Members of the National Council are expecting to bear fruits after cutting down the tree from the roots. “When prices become competitive, tour operators will come up with many tourism products from various parts of the country, which would actually benefit areas not touched until now,” Zhemgang Councilor was quoted saying
If the prices were to play, I would rather focus on areas and products with less time and resources to bring down the cost. I would rather promote Thimphu and Paro only as there are many choices in hotels, especially regarding room rates, well developed infrastructure and avoid additional transportation cost. If I was to promote far flung areas like Lhuentshi and Zhemgang then the overall cost of the tour package will be high, whereas I can easily convince the tourists to spend their (already) limited time in Thimphu, Paro and the nearby regions.
Tourist actually come to experience the unique culture of Bhutan and I can easily promote remote villages of Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Punakha and Wangdue valleys as they also have a lot to offer in terms of traditional authentic Bhutan experience and its not as necessary to take them to the east or central parts of the country.
Having said that, until now, the price of the tour package (daily tariff) never interfered in the itineraries I designed for my guests. Depending on their time, my guests could visit all the places both near, far and remote, because I want my guests to experience and explore as many places as possible within their time frame since the prevailing daily tariff is more than enough to cover all of their expenses and more.
Now, if the liberalization of the daily tourism tariff comes through I may as well prepare myself for the oncoming war with other tour operators solely based on the prices.
However, on the other hand, if the liberalization does not come through and if we don’t need to compete with the prices, we can then think of competing in other ways. One main focus can be in improving and diversification of various tourism products to attract and uphold Bhutan as a unique holiday destination.
I have been in the industry for the last four years. Since the daily tariff is fixed and regulated, my focus was on quality improvement and product diversification. Also since tourists are aware of this fixed daily tariff, there is no time lost in negotiating and haggling the costs! Instead we focus on creating a unique and quality experience worth the dollars.
I earnestly request all members of the Parliament to consider all concerns and the impact of such a recommendation, so that, such irreversible policy change will not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Bhutan Swallowtail Travel Company