Dechen Dolkar

Tour operators will have to compete through the quality of services, programmes and facilities while providing itineraries to the tourists.

There are more than 3,500 licensed tour operators in the country today.

According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), tourists have the option to visit Bhutan through packaged tour operators or by booking the tours themselves.

The media spokesperson of the TCB, Damcho Rinzin, said tourists can apply for the visa themselves and have to pay SDF for the number of nights they will be staying in Bhutan.

“Tourists have the option to choose the hotel on the first night since they need to be picked up from the airport. Then it is up to the tourist where he or she wants to go,” Damcho Rinzin said.

Damchoe Rinzin said that now the tour operators have more advantages because they can offer and charge for exclusive services to the tourists. “Tour operators have to specialise in their services.”

The Ministry of Economic Affairs will issue operators’ licence based on a certification given by TCB.

This means the so-called briefcase operators will be replaced by serious players who will be encouraged to upgrade standards of service, according to the TCB.

The council said that the concept of a luxury hotel would be redefined as TCB lays new guidelines for an authentic Bhutanese experience. This means conditions and services are of high value with transparent service policies and well-defined Bhutanese standards.

Accommodation for guests will be certified based on their readiness in terms of the services and facilities; guests must stay in certified hotels (previously known as “3 Star” and above).

Damcho Rinzin said that there is a farmhouse in Punanka called Dumra offering exclusive services for tourists.

He said that the farmhouse serves only locally produced vegetables. The farmhouse never uses plastic. “There are some tourists who want to stay in such farmhouses.”

Guides will also be provided professional training and be re-certified or be upgraded and certified as guides.

There are more than 3,000 guides in the country. Guests can also choose guides through travel operators, hotels, or personal relations/contacts.

Damcho Rinzin said that tourists will have to use guides.

According to the TCB, regulations are also being drawn up for all transport, restaurant, and the handicraft industry that are directly or indirectly involved in the tourism business.

Bhutan’s new approach is aimed at elevating the travel experience in Bhutan through fair and healthy competition. It is hoped that service providers will be encouraged to continue upgrading their quality.

Tours to Bhutan confirmed before 20th June 2022 are permitted to operate at old rates. As of July 19, TCB has received nearly 500 applicants from tourists who could not visit Bhutan after March 6, 2020.

TCB will, however, assess the evidence of genuine applications. Tour operators are given until the deadline of July 28 2022 to submit applications and until December 31, 2023, for tourists to visit Bhutan.

The TCB states that regulations will be strictly monitored and enforced in collaboration with tourism stakeholders.