In discussion with health ministry on duration of mandatory quarantine

Yangchen C Rinzin

With strict restrictions on travel where travellers will be put under the 21-day mandatory quarantine, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is exploring options and discussing with the technical advisory group (TAG) of the health ministry to ease the restrictions.

As tourism is the hardest hit and the 21-day mandatory quarantine is seen as a big hurdle, the council has approached the TAG to either do away with the quarantine or reduce the number to about three days.

TCB director general Dorji Dhradhul said TCB is exploring to use the “bubble” tourism or let local tour companies come up with travel options. Bubble tourism, also known as green lanes, travel corridors, and corona corridors, is essentially an exclusive travel partnership between two or more countries that have demonstrated considerable success in containing and combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dorji Dhradhul said for the bubble tourism, countries will agree on special travel arrangements by opening up borders and allowing their people to travel free in their countries without having to undergo mandatory on-arrival quarantine.

“The concept cannot be implemented by one single country. Even if we decide to go ahead with bubble tourism, we cannot do it without a partner country agreeing to it or without the approval of the government.”

The director general added that TCB is working with relevant experts to come up with options that are more convenient for everyone. 

  “Tourism was the hardest hit sector by the Covid-19 pandemic globally, and tourism could be the slowest to recover post-Covid-19,” he said. “The pandemic has unprecedentedly prioritised health and wellbeing, so this would force the prospective tourists to decide where to travel and contribute to the slow recovery of tourism.”

However, it is also believed that travel could boom immediately when tourism re-opens due to the long period of restrictions on the entry of tourists.

“So, our way forward plan is to see how best we can adapt to the new normal,” he said. TCB has already started preparatory works such as capacity building, tourist sites, infrastructure improvements, and digitisation of services, among others.

The director general added that TCB at least hopes these options would give the industry the much-needed hope regardless of how many would visit the country. “This would also convey to our overseas tourism partners and prospective tourists that Bhutan is exploring ways to re-open despite difficulties.”

Dorji Dhradhul said that all these options and plans are being prepared with the sole objective to help stakeholders such as people working in hotels, village homestays, restaurants, tour operators, handicrafts, and tour guides.

Meanwhile, TCB is also working on developing domestic tourism with a focus on a new product known as “Druk Neykhor” or “Bhutan Pilgrimage” and the “Trans Bhutan Trail,” the 400 plus km trail connecting Bhutan from east to west via the traditional route. “However, it might take a while to make a significant economic impact,” the director general said.

The director general, however, said that Bhutan’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has already received a lot of positive coverage from international media, and this would help make Bhutan a destination to travel. “However, what would actually happen to depend on how the rest of the world and our source market countries react.”

Tourism has remained closed since the first Covid-19 case was detected in March. TCB has foregone revenue to the extent of more than 90 percent of the 2019 figures where tourism generated USD 345 million(M), USD 88M of foreign exchange earnings, and USD 23M from direct revenue contribution from about 315,599 tourists.