Dechen Dolkar 

The Department of Tourism (DoT) has outsourced the management and operation of roadside amenities and washroom facilities to private firms, civil society organizations, and community members.

This has become urgent and necessary in light of the transformation journey with the upward revision of the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for tourists in order for services to be commensurate with the fee.

The department has allocated Nu 150,000 a month for the operation and management of restrooms at Dochula, Chunzom and Phajoding.

Over the years, DoT has constructed and facilitated restroom facilities (integrated or standalone) at more than 95 sites excluding the amenities solely developed by other organizations which were spread across the country in collaboration with the relevant agencies.

Of that, around 55 facilities are at tourist sites, while 33 are along highways and seven are along trek routes.

More than 10 facilities have attached integrated amenities such as a small cafe and manager’s quarter to improve the sustainability of management with effect from 2020.

The Director General of DoT, Dorji Dhradhul, said that for the other sites, there is no budget allocated for the management of the facilities, and the sites falling within the jurisdiction of respective agencies are taken care of by themselves once handed over to respective dzongkhags.

The restrooms at Gedu (Chhukha) and Yotongla (Trongsa) were found locked.

He said that DoT in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders, have adopted numerous management modalities depending on the location of the washrooms to ensure their operational and management sustainability.

“However, providing quality and clean restrooms continues to remain as a major challenge,” he said.

Home Care managed the restrooms at Dochula and Chuzom in Thimphu for two years from 2016 to 2017.

The Druk Hands Builders was awarded with construction and management of restrooms at six locations in 2019, which includes Jechulum in Punakha, Yotongla in Trongsa, Morong in Samdrupjongkhar, Tshelingkhor in Pemagatshel, Lungsegang and Serutar in Tsirang.

The DG said that the construction was fully completed but operation and management could not be continued by the same firm, due to their poor performance and the facilities were then handed over to respective dzongkhag administrations to manage.

The restrooms along Phajoding trail are operated and managed by ProTouch firm. The construction was started in January this year.

The project manager of the ProTouch, Namgay Tshering, said that if this pilot project is successful, they will be managing such amenities nationwide.

“This pilot project is mainly to address the poor management of roadside amenities,” he said.

The DG said that it has been only one month since completing the construction of amenities at Phajoding trail and already the people are vandalising it. “Someone has even defecated in the dustbin.”

Dorji Dhradhul said that the operation and management of restrooms were outsourced to private firms to ensure clean, safe, and functional restrooms for all users throughout the year. This is also to ensure quality infrastructure and services to further enhance the visitor experiences and to encourage and promote private sector engagement in the management of such facilities.

He said that the department has plans to engage private sector and build integration of amenities (Michi No Eki concept), where the restroom with integrated amenities and provisions for commercial activities.

“The majority of the restroom managers complain about the irresponsible usage by the users and this is a major factor contributing to dysfunctional restrooms,” the DG said.