Tourism: National Council gave a sweet-sour review of the implementation of the resolutions passed last winter while deliberating on tourism sector issues yesterday.

Auditing Tourism Council of Bhutan is underway to examine the tax files and activities of the tourism sector and to ascertain if there is any malpractice or undercutting in the sector. Royal Audit Authority is conducting the special audit following the resolution from the National Council.

National Council resolved that Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) needs to immediately frame a comprehensive sustainable tourism policy for development, management and promotion of the sector.

TCB’s review of the tourism policy initiated last year is expected to be completed soon. The report will be used to feed into the draft tourism policy document that was framed in 2005.

A member of economic affairs committee, Pema Tenzin, said the sector is one of the most important sectors for the country’s economic development, yet remained without a policy to guide its progress.

“The draft policy was submitted to Gross National Happiness Commission, but it was not approved and has been dragging on for 10 years without any progress,” Pema Tenzin said.

While a stand-alone policy has not been adopted, the government adopted the economic development policy that also includes tourism in 2010, said TCB.

According to TCB, the bill was presented the Cabinet in 2011. Both the documents are yet to be adopted.

The NC resolved that the present policy to promote the country as a high value destination by focusing on enhancing yield and quality through product diversification, infrastructure development should be followed.

“All efforts are made to ensure that the country is promoted as a high value destination,” TCB said. Between 2015 and 16, 11 trekking routes are being developed and renovated, of which, many are in eastern parts of the country to achieve balanced development.

By the end of the 11th Plan, construction of roadside amenities along the major national highways will be complete.

However, NC members said that the amenities are in poor state and can’t be used even by the local travellers.

“Some of the toilets have overgrown with bushes,” Mongar Councillor Sonam Wangchuk said.

TCB said that new festivals such as Haa Summer Festival, Matsutake Festivals, Rhododendron Festivals, and the Birds Festivals are supported by TCB. It is reviving and promoting some of the local festivals in the eastern Bhutan. It is also reviewing the existing accommodation standardisation and classification system by engaging an international expert to ensure quality and standards.

The TCB is developing background papers and terms of reference for research on the maximum carrying capacity of the economy, environment and the society.

NC’s other resolutions called for measures to address the seasonality of tourism, spreading benefits of tourism to other parts of country and to provide easy access and quality stay for tourists.

According to one of the nine resolutions, TCB should move to a more transparent pricing system that provides tourists greater value for money and discourages malpractice of undercutting.

NC chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga said the house will have to check on the physical implementation of its resolutions after members raised concerns that things don’t seem to be implemented as the agencies claim.

Members said that while the house has asked to explore new ideas and avenues to improve the sector, much needs to happen.

“The government has acknowledged the need for policy  and works  have begun,” deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said. “It’s good progress.”

Tshering Palden