The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators has recently compiled a report on how to govern regional tourists and made several recommendations.
One of the major issues is that regional tourists, who are from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives, can visit the country without having to hire a local guide or travel agent.
A number of disadvantages such as lack of information on local customs, traditions and the dos and don’ts were raised. It is also felt that regional tourists may return to their countries without experiencing Bhutan.
Other concerns include regional tourists bringing their own vehicles which adds to the already increasing traffic congestion in the country.
To encourage regional tourists to hire local agents and vehicles, it is recommended that local tour agents be allowed to process their permits in advance through an online process, which only licensed tour operator will have access to. This is a good idea.
Regional tourists must be able to see clear benefits of using local guides. If they can process their permits and whatever other required documents in advance, it would be an advantage.
But there must be more than just that. The question is what are regional tourists looking for. Most are looking to escape the heat, experience a different environment, and to take back fond memories at a reasonable cost.
Most regional tourists are also looking to save on costs. This must be understood and therefore, services and products should be designed to cater to these requirements.
For instance, if regional tourists are willing to crowd into rooms, then tour agents can design cheaper but more attractive alternatives such as camping in tents under the stars.
The element of adventure could appeal. Taking them off the usual part, away from the urban, and onto trails to enjoy the pristine environment, would provide that local experience at low cost.
But adventure would not be appealing to all. If it is monuments they’re after, then perhaps, exclusive access to some areas could be provided, which would not be possible without a local guide.
The key perhaps is designing packages for regional tourists that are more affordable but include the essence of Bhutan. It is easier said than done. But that is how we can solve the issue related to non-tariff tourism.