Visa applications put on hold as TCB readies the service sector  

Yangchen C Rinzin  

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) will not accept tourist visa applications until the Council is ready with its preparations for a safe, healthy and enjoyable experience for the tourists.

Earlier, the government issued a directive stating that  foreigners wishing to visit the country will have to undergo a 21-day quarantine if unvaccinated and 14 days if vaccinated, and pay for quarantine expenses. TCB’s Director general, Dorji Dhradhul, clarified that the overall  situation in the country has not returned to normal.

The Council is working towards enhancing services such as tourist standard quarantine facilities.

Dorji Dhradhul said that although it was not government’s directives to put on hold opening the tourism sector, it was TCB’s mandate,  as a respective sector that looks after tourism, to ensure that all tourist services are put in place before welcoming tourists.  “This is why the Council decided to halt the visa application or approval temporarily.”

As of yesterday, only one tourist  had applied for a visa even with the quarantine restrictions after Bhutan received its first tourist in August.

“After the first tourist’s visit, the Council realised that there were so many things we needed to address especially in terms of providing services including standard quarantine facilities,” he said. “For us, high value low volume is vital and our preparation is towards providing the best experience to tourists when they visit Bhutan.”

TCB has recently rolled out clean and safe certification training where all hotels and restaurant staff are being trained to be certified and cater to tourists.

The certificate will guarantee all hotels and restaurants are safe, clean, and ready to serve customers in compliance with health and safety protocol. Hotels and restaurants would be assessed to be certified as a clean service provider.

Dorji Dhradhul said that there are interested hoteliers who submitted to be tourist quarantine hotels, but the Council would assess hotels  to be eligible for a standard tourist quarantine centre.

“Our proposal is to have at least three hotels certified as tourists’ standard quarantine facility in Paro and Thimphu so that as and when we receive tourists they would be quarantined in these certified hotels and not mix with general quarantine facilities,” he said.

Dorji Dhradhul said that the Council is hoping that all hotels would be certified as clean and safe to provide services and  Bhutan would be able to welcome more tourists.

In 2020, only 28,000 tourists visited Bhutan generating a revenue of USD 19 million, against 315,599 tourists in 2019. The tourism sector earned USD 225 million in 2019. It already recorded Nu 2 billion in non-performing loans (NPL) as of March 2020.

The sector saw more than 50,737 hoteliers, tour operators, guides, and homestays affected because of the dependency on tourism for their livelihood.