Safety for guides, first or last?

The incident has pushed the tourism industry to call for safety measures at all tourist sites 

Tourism: Despite sending an additional team from Thimphu to assist the search team in Bumthang following the November 4 mishap in Mebartsho, the body of the tour guide is yet to be recovered.

Guides Association of Bhutan’s (GAB) chairman Garab Dorji said about 10 people from the tourism industry were in Bumthang until yesterday.

The guide from Bongo, Chukha had jumped in the lake to rescue a French tourist who had slipped into the lake while taking photographs. While the guide managed to push the tourist ashore, he drowned. Another tourist who had also jumped into the lake along with the guide to rescue the tourist managed to come out safely.

The 66-year-old tourist died a few minutes later from excess water inhalation. The tourist travelled to Bumthang as a part of 15-member group. The body of the tourist was flown to France the next day after the incident.

The proprietor of Mercury Bhutan travels, where the guide was employed, said that some of their staff was in Bumthang with the guide’s family since the incident.

Proprietor Karma Namgyal said that while they are preoccupied with the loss, they are hopeful that they will be able to locate the body. “We’ve lost a dedicated guide who sacrificed himself in the process of rescuing a tourist,” he said.

Karma Namgyal said the driver had also jumped into the lake when the incident occurred but the guide drowned after he managed to push the body of the tourist ashore as he could not swim.

The incident has pushed the tourism industry to call for safety measures to avoid such issues at the Mebartsho.

Following the incident, the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators board members met and decided that the issue would be raised with the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Besides, the association is also exploring ways to generate a fund or insurance policy for guides should such incidents occur in future.

Tour operators and guides said such incidents are not new and that it happens on trekking trails as well.

A tour operator said that safety measures in all tourist sites are a must along with awareness. “There should be safety equipment in place while guides should be briefed on safety issues, be it on treks or cultural tours,” he said.

Some tour operators also said that guides should be taught search and rescue operations as part of their training that would benefit both the guides and the clients.

Another issue that some guides highlighted was the lack of a welfare or insurance scheme during mishaps.

“The money will at least be of some help to the deceased’s family,” a guide said.

Karma Namgyal said the safety issue at Mebartsho and that of guides needs a thorough discussion to prevent such mishaps in future.

GAB’s chairman Garab Dorji said that as the forefront of the tourism industry, there were many issues that need to be addressed.

He said the association has submitted the issue of welfare and insurance schemes besides the issue of engaging two guides for bigger groups to relevant agencies several times. “If the group comprises 10 or more tourists, it should be handled by senior guides or two guides,” he said, adding that in a bid to cut cost, most tour operators don’t do that.

“We just have verbal support from the stakeholders,” he added.

GAB and ABTO also initiated a voluntary fund collection in honour of the guide.

Going by media reports, at least one tourist dies in Bhutan every year despite support and precautionary measures in place. The cause of deaths has been either altitude sickness or medical condition for most international tourists, while most regional tourists died from mishaps especially at the Mebartsho.

Records also show that on an average, about four international tourists are evacuated every year from the mountains while on treks due to altitude sickness.

There are over 2,300 guides and about 1,600 tour operators in the country as of last year.

Kinga Dema

1 reply
  1. chopel
    chopel says:

    “Karma Namgyal said the driver had also jumped into the lake when the incident occurred but the guide drowned after he managed to push the body of the tourist ashore as he could not swim” ….???????? DRIVER OF THE VEHICLE THEY TRAVELLED? DOES IT MEAN THREE PEOPLE DIVED INTO THE LAKE, NOT TWO AS REPORTED IN EALIER ARTICLES?

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