A few bad apples among operators can ruin the entire barrel that is the industry

Tourism: Following the recent visa forgery case, where a tour operator forged visas of 19 Thai tourists, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay emphasised the need for stronger laws to penalise people involved in such fraudulent practices.

Speaking at the meet-the-press session yesterday, lyonchoen said, just because of a person’s mistake, things should not get difficult for the entire tourism industry. “But a minor mistake can lead to serious issues for which it’s important to penalise the person concerned,” lyonchoen, who is also the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan said.

In doing so, lyonchoen said, laws should not be so stringent that people were not able to bear it, nor too simple for them to take advantage.  Last year’s case, where a tour operator forged visas for two German tourists, lyonchoen said, badly tarnished Bhutan’s image. “It was really embarrassing,” lyonchoen said.

On May 4, 28 Thai tourists arrived at the Paro international airport as official guests, but immigration officials found that 19 visas were forged.  While the case is being investigated, lyonchoen said the tour operator brought in the Thai tourists as official guests.

Lyonchoen lauded the efforts of the immigration officials at the airport who managed to detect the forgery. “These are cases that were detected at the airport but I’m worried that there could be many such cases not detected at the airport.”

While visas for tourists, who pay the minimum daily package rate of USD 250, are applied for through the visa online system introduced in 2009, the immigration department directly issues visas for regional, official and business visitors.  Visas in these categories are not reflected on the visa online system.

Following the May 4 forgery case, Paro police detained the tour operator and an official from the economic affairs ministry since May 5.  The tourists had come through Bhutan Breez, a travel agency located in Olakha, Thimphu.

People from the tourism industry attributes loopholes in the existing tourism and immigration regulations leading to such forgery cases.  This is the third forgery case.

TCB’s annual report states that about 17 percent of the 64,028 international visitors in 2013 were on business and official purpose.  About 16 percent of the 54,685 international visitors in 2012 were official and business guests.

Similarly, the immigration department issues about 70 visas for personal guests every month.  As of April 14, this year, the department issued 243 personal guest visas.

Meanwhile, lyonchoen also said that the forgery case would be forwarded to the court as soon as the investigation completes.

By Kinga Dema