Chimi Dema 

More than 33 officials from the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and eight officials from the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) underwent a test for controlled substances yesterday.

All the officials tested negative.

TCB recently announced that there would be mandatory drug tests for guides, which generated a lot of criticism online. A major criticism was that the council was forcing the test on the guides without conducting amongst its employees.

The director-general, Dorji Dradhul said such initiative was taken to set an example to show the guides that even their employees were undergoing the test.

The employees were tested for commonly used illegal drugs including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and cannabis among others.

Following an endorsement of TCB’s standard operating procedure (SoP) for drug testing of tourism service providers by Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) last October, TCB issued a notification on the mandatory drug test for tourist guides to be carried out in December.

Tourism officials said that the drug test is not to penalise those engaged in controlled substances but to offer them opportunity to get appropriate treatment services.

“Tourist guides are our ambassadors who have to be in constant touch with tourists, so they have to be clean while providing public services,” Dorji Dradhul said. “Basically this test was to ensure a healthier, safer and productive tourism industry free of drug abuse.”

Every tourist guide renewing licenses between December and February each year will now have to undergo a mandatory drug test and produce a drug-free certificate in order to get their licenses renewed or issued.

As of last year, more than 4,000 tourist guides renewed their licenses.

“Those who test positive will be referred to the treatment assessment panel (TAP) of BNCA for treatment and would be given three chances to correct themselves,” Dorji Dradhul said.

The council is yet to decide regime for repeated offenders. “They would be required to serve counselling and treatment for a longer period,” he said.

Meanwhile, the license will be suspended during the time of the treatment and issued after completing the treatment.

TCB also has a plan to make the drug test an annual event to deter those who haven’t abused controlled substances yet and to provide treatment support to those with controlled substance usage issues.

The test would be either announced or conducted randomly.

Officials said that after the council completes conducting the test for tourist guides, it would be initiated for other tourism service providers, since everyone plays a crucial role in the tourism industry.

The country today has over 20,000 service providers in tourism.

BNCA’s director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that to make the drug test a regular programme of individual organisation or institution, the employees were being trained to conduct test for their colleagues in the future.