But states that a tourism Act is not required urgently

Bhutan already has adequate policies and guidelines in place to regulate the tourism sector and does not need a tourism Act urgently, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said yesterday.

Appearing at National Council, the prime minister, who is also the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), said Vision 2020, Economic Development Policy 2016 and the 11th Plan guide the development of the tourism sector.  The government, he said, does not feel the urgency to have a separate policy and a tourism Act.

The 16th session of NC that concluded in December 2015 had called on the government to immediately adopt a tourism policy and to table a tourism bill in Parliament. Gasa’s NC member Sangay Khandu asked the prime minister about why the government had “failed to implement” those recommendations.

Sangay Khandu said the tourism sector today is facing problems including inadequate monitoring, weak institutional capacity and a lack of accountability. He also said that in absence of a tourism policy, there is no clarity on what “high value, low impact” of Bhutan’s tourism industry stands for.

Lyonchoen said the policy of  “high value, low impact” is protected through the imposition of the minimum tariff fee on international tourists. The government charges a daily tariff from USD 200 to USD 250 a person for international tourists.

“It’s not because of our failure that we don’t have a separate policy or a law for the tourism sector,” he said, adding that the industry is doing well without major problems. “It’s wrong to say that we don’t have a tourism policy.”

The tourism sector contributed a total of USD 73 million (M) to the country’s exchequer in 2016. The number of international tourists increased from 57,537 in 2015 to 62,773 in 2016.

However, the rapidly growing numbers of regional tourists have been a concern to the government, lyonchoen said. The number of regional tourists increased from 97,584 in 2015 to 146,797 in 2016.

He said the government is looking at possibilities of reducing the number of regional tourists. “The large numbers of regional tourists are good in one way but we are also concerned about possible risks,” he said.

As part of the “high value, low impact” policy, the prime minister informed that tourists will have to pay to enter Punakha Dzong. After introducing a payment system in Tashichhoedzong and Taktsang, he said a total of Nu 8.8M has been collected.

However, the prime minister acknowledged the need to adopt a tourism policy to not only regulate the growing numbers of regional tourists but also to promote domestic tourism. He informed the house that the Cabinet endorsed a draft tourism policy in February this year.

Lyonchoen said that although a special audit of the tourism sector was conducted, the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) could not find any evidence of malpractices such as tax evasion and undercutting. Unlike in other sectors, the prime minister said it was difficult for tour operators to evade taxes.

The RAA had audited the sector to examine, among others, malpractices and possible tax evasion. The RAA report has also recommended TCB to prioritise formulation of a tourism policy and to a adopt tourism bill.

“TCB should integrate tourism activities in dzongkhag development plans,” the report states. As per the recommendations of RAA, the TCB should review its pricing structure to make it more responsive to the pace of global economic development.

According to NC, the benefits of tourism are not spread evenly across the county and that tourism activities are mostly concentrated in the west.

Some of the reasons for lower visit rates in the east are attributed to poor quality of road, lack of roadside amenities and long travel distances.

MB Subba