Lest we make a mistake

Opening up tourism or freeing the tariff is as complex as the functioning of the lucrative business. Both will have long-term implications and a good debate, the sort happening at the National Council, is what we need before we come to a decision.

The Council’s economic affairs committee is recommending retaining the current royalty portion and leaving the rest to the tour operators. This apparently is coming from consultation with those in the sector consulted. The logic is to break the stronghold of the few big companies and letting the benefit of the industry trickle down.

But this is contradicting what the same people in the same business expressed a few years ago. Perhaps, the situation had changed or more were consulted this time around, but liberalizing the tariff, they felt, could hurt the industry in a way that could be irreversible. The proposal then came from the government to generate more revenue and create employment opportunities by increasing the tourist numbers.

Tour operators then thought that more tourists would not necessarily mean more income. They expressed concern of the country being overrun by tourists who would not be spending as much as those visiting today. Interestingly, those cautioning against the recommendation are using the same reasons today. What tour operators fear most then was that they might simply be reduced to the role of commission agents living off a commission instead of operating a tourism business.

With wise leadership and farsighted vision, Bhutan was cautious in opening its door to tourists. If there was the fear of budget travellers overrunning Bhutan, the country also didn’t have infrastructure to handle tourists in big numbers. We are better off today in terms of roads, hotels and for that matter, cars and guides. But we would want to still restrict and have control over the number of foreigners visiting Bhutan.

We also don’t want to lose the allure as an exclusive destination. Our culture and heritage, a mainstay of tourism, also cannot be at stake because we want more money from the huge inflow of tourists. Our strength is taking a balanced approach and as cliché as it may sound, learning from mistake others have committed.

There are pros and cons in liberalizing the tariff. Which outweighs the other will be known through discourse and debate.

The concern of an influx of budget tourists and tour operators turning into mere commission agents are untrue. This is because the royalty of USD 65 a day still stands. Besides we know many operators are anyway operating on commissions. Undercutting is an industry norm despite a minimum daily tariff.

The same concerns are now interpreted in a different way, both are convincing. What we can look for in policy is to see the benefits of the industry trickle down to other sectors. We cannot have the industry holding others at ransom. The service sector should equally benefit. And we should not forget the communities, their culture and traditions that bring the tourist to the country.

It would be an ideal situation if the government maintained its commission and left the rest to competition for the purpose of going into high value tourism and allowing open competition. But the ground realities are different therefore, the need for discourse.

3 replies
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    A huge crowd of shoppers at a retail store is usually considered a good thing for the ones owning the store. If management of the crowd becomes a challenge, the owners not necessarily opt for a price hike as regulatory measure. But so called market forces in form higher demands can lead to price hike, but even that needs to be watched. This sounds irrelevant here and I am only trying to look at the regional tourist scenario from a different prospective.

    Whether it’s the hydro project development initiatives or popularity of Bhutan as tourist destination, many from the region are coming to the country as just expatriates or tourist on short visits. They are not high end tourists and still, it will be untrue if we say that they are not contributing to the economy. Prices have gone up whether it’s travel, accommodation or food. The so called cheap accommodation is not cheap anymore and service delivery for the budget tourists has been under huge pressure with increased demand. Some budget hotel allows tourist to cook their own food as they are not at all prepared to cook certain dishes at large quantities. They complain that vegetables are not available in adequate quantity and reasonable price at the local markets. But even these tourists pay the bills plus the taxes. Mid to high end hospitality industry is always doing business through the tour operators and are hardly entertaining on spot bookings. Measures can be taken to streamline the flow of regional tourists, but it’s not possible to restrict quantity of workforce and machinery at different project sites when we are talking accelerated development.

    Coming to the ‘high on experience and low volume’ tourism industry and foreign travellers; can a beautiful experience of cultural tourism be wrapped up in 5 days and 6 nights when we are talking elderly tourists. Adequate tourism infrastructure has been created over the years to accommodate this specific demand and it’s concentrated development in three or four districts alone. A price barrier in service delivery has already been created if that demand is falling and there is a wide gap between any future budget traveller and infrastructure in place. It’s a difficult situation for policy makers for sure. Even an expatriate worker travelling for two days to reach his work site will demand some minimal tourism experience. It’s similar to Bhutanese students experiencing tourism industry abroad while on long study tours. But it doesn’t get counted and still, pricing even outside the tourism industry will over-cut the costs within the industry and that of the traveller. If we want to spread from the concentrated tourism infrastructure, new constructions will demand more workers, machinery and capital. Reality is that the industry has been allowed to grow rather inefficiency in the past and it will cost now. Sooner or later, even the foreign tourists will feel the price and that’s created as assets needs to be maintained.

    • Ihavepopcornyeah
      Ihavepopcornyeah says:

      Luckily I know enough people with shops and apartments in the city and out to use theirs lol…

      But Yes we need to invest on decent public toilets, and security guards to protect them. The adults/kids are hoodlums with a capital H. Ain’t nothing going to stay safe. That’s what I hate most about Thimphu. The park in Motithang was going good till adults/kids came and ruined it for the rest of us. I say adults because it would be unfair to lay all the blame on children. After all i have seen more adults act like idiots in public than children.

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