The Tourism Levy Exemption Bill 2017 received little support and more criticisms from the National Council on December 2 when finance minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji introduced the bill.

More than half the members present in the House raised concerns and queries on the bill, which proposes to waive off royalty USD 65 a day for tourist visiting the eastern dzongkhags.

Of the 20 sitting members, 12 voted “No”, three abstained and five voted in favour. Most said that doing away with the royalty was not the only way to boost tourism in the eastern dzongkhags.

The members asked if the bill would impact the core tourism policy of High Value, Low Impact and the legal status of exemption granted on tourism by the government, which are not included in the bill.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that waiving the royalty would be complemented with resumption of domestic air services and widening of the East-West Highway.

He said the government has not conducted any study on the impact of this initiative on dzongkhags such as Bumthang and Trongsa.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said the government has drafted the bill to boost tourist arrival in the east by slightly modifying the tourism policy of high value, low impact.

He said the bill is not related to the Rising East Policy of the government and will be piloted for three years until December 31, 2020. Lyonpo said the reduction in levy of tax would enhance existing tourism for the country as a whole and develop tourism in the eastern circuit.

Gasa NC member and Chairperson of the Economic Affairs Committee, Sangay Khandu presenting the bill said that the committee was unable to advice the House to support the bill.

One of the main problems in the bill was Chapter 3 (7).  It states, “An international leisure tourist visiting eastern circuit shall be exempted from payment of applicable tourism levy for the duration of their stay.”

While the members supported the principles and intent of the bill to promote tourism sector, they raised concerns that reduction of tax was not the way to do it.

Members said that the house had always supported regional development and adopted several recommendations to address regional tourism imbalance in the past. The deputy chairperson, Tshering Dorji urged the house not to confuse the issue with not supporting regional development.

He said that there is no basis to the bill, as it will directly impact the core policy of high value, low impact let alone benefit the eastern region.

The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly today.

Tshering Palden