Dechen Dolkar 

The Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) has put forth a comprehensive proposal for the standardisation of the Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) provided to tourist guides in the country.

In a formal letter addressed to the Department of Tourism (DoT), the GAB seeks the endorsement and recommendation of the guides’ plea to increase their DSA.

On June 23, a meeting took place between representatives from the guides’ community and officials from the DoT. The central point of discussion was the pressing need to revise the DSA for guides. The guides expressed their predicament, pointing out that most hotels fail to provide rooms and meals, thereby bearing these expenses themselves.

Chairman of the GAB, Garab Dorji, emphasised the challenging situation, especially when tours take place outside Thimphu. He said that the existing DSA structure was insufficient to cover the accommodation and meal costs, and urged for a more reasonable remuneration to address these financial hardships.

Currently, small tour operators pay DSA at the rate of Nu 2,000, while larger operators offer between Nu 800 to Nu 1,200 per day. The guides reported a decline in DSA payments to below Nu 1,500 per day after the pandemic, contrasting with the pre-pandemic rate of Nu 1,500 per day.

In light of tourism reform, officials underscored that the changes aim to benefit all service providers and uplift the payment standards for hotel employees and guides alike.

GAB’s proposal outlines specific DSA amounts for various types of tours, with different vehicle capacities. For cultural tours with one to three passengers using SUVs and small vehicles, a minimum DSA of Nu 3,000 per day is suggested.

For tours with four to seven passengers using HIACE Buses or Mini Buses, the proposed DSA is Nu 3,500 per day. For tours with eight to ten passengers employing Toyota Coaster Buses, the recommended DSA is Nu 4,000 per day. Lastly, for tours with 11 or more passengers also using Toyota Coaster Buses, the proposed DSA is Nu 4,500 per day.

The proposal also includes revised DSA rates for trekking guides, with a minimum of Nu 4,500 per day, and for the challenging snowman trek (level I, II & III), a minimum of Nu 8,000 per day, contingent on the group size.

Additionally, GAB proposes varying DSA amounts for specialised language tours, suggesting USD 50 to 100 for specific languages and USD 100 and above for others.

Garab Dorji emphasised that the present payment scheme affects the confidence and morale of the guides, despite being integral to the success of the tourism industry. The GAB argues for standardisation of the DSA, citing the changing requirements and expenses as group sizes and transport arrangements vary.

The GAB’s minimum standardisation proposal is deemed crucial in empowering tourist guides to perform their duties effectively. The GAB urges the DoT to advocate for a minimum DSA of Nu 3,000 per day, recognizing its significance in promoting professionalism within the sector.

In response, the director general of the DoT, Dorji Dhradhul, expressed support for increasing the DSA, acknowledging that the current payments fall below acceptable levels. However, the DoT maintains that the decision ultimately rests with the involved parties and DoT has no authority.

Furthermore, the GAB noted a shortage of senior tour guides and tour leaders, many of whom also own tour companies, making them less available to handle tours for others or walk-in tourists. The GAB requested a reconsideration of the current limitation on the number of tourists handled by senior tour guides and tour leaders, allowing them to cater to larger groups of up to 15 pax.

Garab Dorji also highlighted another crucial concern: the absence of a provident fund for tour guides. As freelance workers with no fixed salary and limited group assignments, tour guides find it difficult to save for their future and support their families. The GAB has engaged with various political parties, including the current government, to address this matter.

Presently, there are approximately 1,800 guides in Bhutan after the completion of the assessment test. The GAB’s proposal aims to bring positive change to the lives of these dedicated guides, seeking fair compensation and recognition for their invaluable contributions to the nation’s thriving tourism industry.