Dechen Dolkar  

Tourists visiting for a day or spending a night in the border towns could be exempted from paying the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), according to the representatives of the hoteliers.

The recommendation was submitted at the consultation between the hoteliers and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) yesterday.

According to draft tourism rules and regulations 2022, a day visitor spending a night within the border towns of Bhutan or travelling beyond the designated point will be subject to payment of applicable SDF.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) also met with representatives of the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) yesterday.

During the consultation meeting, the members from HRAB raised that SDF should be exempted in all border towns.

“Imposing SDF in the border towns will discourage tourists to halt in the border towns of Bhutan, encouraging travellers to stay a night across the border depriving the local border communities of Bhutan of revenue and tourism,” the hoteliers said.

The hoteliers said that just Nu 6,000 to Nu 7,000 SDF tourists will stay at the border area. “This will have huge impacts on the hoteliers.”

The hoteliers said that from experience, the regional tourists usually come in large groups with family. They said that there should be a detailed procedure for the application of permits modality of procedure while applying for a visa or permit.

The draft rule states that a tourist will pay applicable SDF as per the procedure adopted by the Department of Immigration for applying for a visa or permit, whichever is applicable.

The hoteliers also recommended that the business bonds should be according to the category of the hotels, though they support on the providing business bonds.

The draft rules also state that the service provider will have to provide the business bond of  Nu 500,000 in the form of a Bank Guarantee drawn in favour of the TCB or any other agency identified for that purpose and payable at banks located in Thimphu.

The hoteliers said that since there are high bad debts among the service providers a dispute committee between service providers should be formed. However, the proposal was already submitted to the council.

The hoteliers said that though the new tourism policy is for a level playing field for all the service providers, there is micromanagement at the ground level with many requirements.

The officials from TCB also said that the council is also working and revising the requirements and criteria of star ratings of hotels and hotels will be assessed again.

Meanwhile, the TCB has taken the feedback of the service providers on transportation. TCB is proposing that tourist vehicles should not be older than 12 years from the date of registration with the Road Safety and Transport Authority.

The draft rules also state that the Luxury SUVs should be above 1900cc and luxury buses above 2400cc.

The hoteliers said that the higher cc doesn’t mean a luxury vehicle. There is some higher cc which is not luxury.

The TCB officials also said that they are also proposing budget hotels to cater to tourists in some of the dzongkhags for the time being since there are no 3-star and above hotels.

They said that the government is also revising and working on the SDF exemption in some of the categories. Currently, there are 18 categories exempted from SDF.

The hoteliers said that there is no clarity on rules and regulations. They are confused. If the government could direct them properly so that they can upgrade the business or either prepare to exit the business.

Guide Association of Bhutan 

The members from GAB also recommended that instead of categorising in different levels, the guides should be categorised as culture guides, specialised tour guides, senior guides and as tour leaders.

The members also recommended that as the beginner or culture guide, the guide should handle a small group maximum of six tourists.

The guide should have at least three years of experience in culture guide to be promoted to specialized guide. To become senior guides they should have at least five years of experience in the specialization.

It was recommended that the guides should undergo trekking training compulsory in specialization and in the senior guides. To become the tour leader the guide should have a minimum experience of five years as a senior guide. From culture guide to tour leader, the guide should have at least 13 years of experience.

The guides will be assessed on their competency. The guides will conduct tests to promote to the next level. If they fail to renew their license they will have to pay a penalty and be re-assessed.

“There are some senior guides who cannot explain to the tourists,” a GAB member said.

The guides also proposed that they be provided with accommodation during the tour. The guide claims that some of the guides are not provided accommodation by the hotels and they struggle to find accommodations.

The draft rules and regulations and recommendations will be tabled in the council board meeting and finalised which will be held this week.