Gov.t to study all recommendations before taking a decision

Meet the press: The government will decide on the proposed changes in the tourism sector after studying the recommendations of the National Council, draft Economic Development Policy (EDP) and Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk, at the meet-the-press session yesterday, said the government would examine and get a comprehensive perspective after it has all the three recommendations.

“Firstly we need to see if there is a need for reform and if so, what is the path that we tread and the strategies that we would adopt,” lyonpo said, when asked about the government’s view on whether its time for a change in the tariff system as recommended by the Council and proposed in the draft EDP.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk is also the vice chairman of the TCB.

He said it’s interesting that currently the tourism sector is looked at from three fronts referring to the Council, the EDP and the TCB’s review of tourism policy.

While the National Council probably focused on the tariff structure, lyonpo said a group of civil servants from the economic affairs ministry are working on the EDP.

“As part of the comprehensive EDP, they have also looked at how to revamp and reform the tourism sector where they have also included the tariff structure,” lyonpo said.

Most importantly, lyonpo said TCB with support of expertise from the World Bank is developing a comprehensive recommendation on the tourism strategies and policies as a whole that would capture the structure as well.

“The government would be much wiser with three different recommendations perhaps with some convergence,” lyonpo said. “We’ll entrust all the recommendations to the civil servants who would then give a reasoned judgment.”

Lyonpo said that essentially for the government, it works with relevant civil servants to whom all the recommendations would be entrusted.

“So until it comes to the Cabinet, we will not be able to take any decision,” lyonpo said, adding that right now the government has the Council’s and the EDP recommendations and that TCB recommendation is expected soon.

The National Council during its 16th session resolved to recommend the government to reform the “archaic tourism pricing mechanism by moving from the fixed minimum daily tariff system to a more transparent pricing system that provides tourists greater value for money and discourages the malpractice of undercutting and improves higher value tourism.”

“This recommendation would entail retaining or even increasing the royalty component (sustainable tourism fee) and requiring tourists to be routed through local tour operators and using local tour guides,” the resolution states.

Terming Bhutan as an exclusive tourist destination, the draft EDP states that tourists will no longer be required to come through a travel agency. Instead tourists are required to pay a sustainable development fee (royalty) and show the confirmations of guide, vehicle and hotel reservation, airline booking, and travel itinerary before they are issued visas.

The draft EDP states that tourists would be provided with visitors card at the point of entry that provides access to all historical, cultural and other tourist sites.  The value of the card will be equivalent to the visa fees and the sustainable development fee (SDF). The SDF shall be the sole mechanism to promote high value low impact tourism.

The draft EDP also states that TCB would set the SDF on a monthly basis at the beginning of the year to ensure distribution of the tourist inflow throughout the year and by region. The draft also recommends lower fees in the months when the tourist arrivals are low and higher fees during peak season.

For tourists staying longer than 10 days, lower fees would be levied and a discount on SDF would be offered for repeat visitors from their second visit. However, the government can exempt or lower the SDF to visitors from select countries during lean seasons for a fixed duration.

Kinga Dema