Only a few weeks remain for the relief packages for those affected by the pandemic to end. There was a palpable sense of relief when the government lifted major restrictions to allow economic activities to resume. Those in the tourism industry have been the hardest hit and have been most anxious for things to return to normal.
However, if certain things are not set right, the industry may not return to normal no matter what.
Tourism has largely been the process of bringing in groups of people who pay about USD 250 a day, taking them around the country by vehicle or on foot, and then sending them off. Most are happy to have been in Bhutan, happy enough to overlook what has become an average, sometimes poor, quality of service.
A bulk of the tour operators do not actually have much infrastructure and are sometimes scrambling to take care of their visitors. And tourists gradually started complaining. USD 250 a day is not a fortune but enough to demand better service and greater variety. Operators point out that this is one reason why Bhutan, apparently, is seeing fewer repeat visitors.
Tourism Council of Bhutan has been launching some initiatives before the pandemic put a stop to everything and affected more than 50,000 people. Boosting the standard of services and, even more important, giving tourism a better image. With a policy, and a series of training done, the present focus is on quality. The training focus on raising the standard of food, beverage, and hotel services.
While this is a change from the more complacent attitude of tourism authorities in the past, we know that this is the easy part. Implementing good plans is far more difficult. With the department being run like all other government departments, observers point out that it needs more initiatives that such a vibrant industry needs.
It is essential to recognise and take stringent measures to prevent undercutting and fronting that have for long plagued the sector.
But we would like to see the tour operators, the biggest beneficiaries, do more to raise the profile of the industry. Some large companies have hotels and other infrastructure. But, apart from a distinctive Bhutanese effort, our tour companies have made limited imprints in the industry.
Some are so exclusively high-end and others are so low-end that they do not have an impact beyond their own businesses. In fact, this is a question we all ask ourselves.
Today’s generation of successful Bhutanese is an extremely lucky generation, owing most of our success to the country whether it is in education, jobs, business, property, or health. For many of us, it is time to pay back. At some stage, such luck runs out.