Online permit system to go operational by yearend

The system will facilitate processing of travel permits online for regional tourists

Tourism: The proposed online permit system for regional tourists will be operational by the end of this year with its testing beginning this month, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) officials said.

TCB and the department of information have been working on the system.

TCB officials said the system to facilitate processing of permits online is expected to make permit processing easier for regional visitors. “It’ll be an incentive for regional tourists and Bhutanese facilitators like tour operators and hoteliers to process permit in advance for their clients,” TCB’s head of marketing and promotion division, Damcho Rinzin said.

Visitors from India, Maldives and Bangladesh are considered regional tourists. They are exempt from the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and 200 during the peak and lean seasons that international tourists pay to visit Bhutan.

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Regional tourists coming in by road today need to show up in person at the border check points to process their tourist permit which will be valid for Thimphu and Paro dzongkhags only. If they plan to visit other dzongkhags, they need to avail another permit from Thimphu.

Those who fly in do not need to process the permit for Paro and Thimphu dzongkhags but avail permits from Thimphu if they wish to visit dzongkhags besides Paro and Thimphu.

The department of immigration issues permits for regional tourists.

Records with TCB show that Bhutan recorded a total of 99,709 tourists as of August 31 of which 32,877 were international visitors and 66,832 regional visitors. Regional tourist arrivals continued to increase this year.

As of August 31, regional tourists recorded an increase of 77.25 percent compared to the same period last year. The country received 65,399 regional tourists last year.

TCB officials said that today Indian tourists and Bhutanese facilitators like tour operators and hoteliers have to wait in queue to process permits. If their arrival falls on weekend, after office and on holidays then they have to wait in Thimphu for the immigration office to open.

With the online system operational, TCB officials said that Indian visitors would not have to worry about this. “They can better plan their Bhutan vacation ahead of time,” Damcho Rinzin said.

TCB officials also emphasised the importance of safety and security of all visitors including regional tourists. “When they use services of Bhutanese facilitators their safety and security will be taken care of,” Damcho Rinzin said. “Their trip to Bhutan can only be enhanced when visitors avail services of a trained guide or someone who knows well about Bhutan.”

Officials also said the Bhutanese ground handlers would assist regional tourists in planning their trip to Bhutan, which would help prevent accidents or unfortunate incidents owing to lack of knowledge on safety like it happened in the recent past.

Until a couple of years ago, regional tourists were not part of the tourism statistics. However, now that their numbers are used as a yardstick to achieve targets, tour operators said there should be certain regulations in place not just to monitor but also to effectively manage and optimise tourism benefits.

The drastic increase in the arrival of regional tourists over the years has pushed tourism stakeholders to call for a policy to govern regional tourists. Tourism stakeholders also raised the issue with the government expressing the need for a proper strategy on management and maximising benefits of regional tourists.

In this regard the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) about three months ago proposed that licensed tour operators could be allowed to process the route permits in advance for non-tariff paying tourists.

“That’s for a quality experience and to ease congestion at the border immigration checkposts in applying for the permits,” ABTO’s executive director Sonam Dorje said.

Besides, Sonam Dorje also said that if regional tourists route through Bhutanese tour operators, it would help formalise tour paying system which will also help increase INR reserve as most regional tourists coming to Bhutan route through tour agents in the Indian border towns today where they change their INR.

Kinga Dema

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