Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has plans to come up with three roadside amenities at Dobji Dzong in Paro, Yotongla in Trongsa, and at the immigration checkpoint in Hongtsho in Thimphu next year.
This is part of TCB’s plans to develop 18 restrooms throughout the country by the end of 2018, which the TCB announced in October 2015.
A TCB official said a total of 16 roadside amenities were constructed across the country since 2013.
The National Council’s economic affairs committee review report on tourism policy and strategies highlighted a weak organisation and coordination among government agencies in regulating and promoting the tourism sector.
The review report states that the situation was best epitomised when Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in March 2015 expressed disappointment on the failure to develop and maintain basic tourist infrastructure like toilets.
The prime minister, during the TCB’s mid-year review on February 2, urged government agencies and the private sector to take the initiative to maintain the toilets, for which the government was willing to provide support.
“If no one is interested, I’ll have to take the initiative myself,” the prime minister then said.
The review report states that the institutional weakness with TCB and bureaucratically complex inter-agency coordination is exposed when the prime minister has to take a lead role to develop restroom facilities and further when the development of 18 restrooms across the country is expected to take more than two years.
Tour operators and guides said lack of roadside amenities or restroom was always an issue in the sector.
A freelance guide, Sangay Dorji, said that just constructing toilets is not enough. “It should be frequently maintained.”
While most of the existing restroom facilities are in good condition, he said some like the ones in Thangthangkha in Paro and Jangothang in Thimphu did not serve its purpose. “The toilets and kitchens are dirty and we hardly use it. We pitch a separate tent for cooking.”
A guide, Tashi Phuntsho, said besides the restroom and kitchen facilities in Jangothang in Thimphu, the restroom in Chelela is not in good condition.
“Let alone tourists, it is not fit for the locals to use,” Tashi Phuntsho said. “Despite having the restroom, tourists are compelled to relieve in open, which is not good for the environment.”
However, he said the facilities at Thangthangkha in Paro are well maintained. “I recently visited the place and it was clean. The tourist doesn’t mind paying Nu 10 if facilities are clean and usable.”
A freelance guide, Tshering Dorji, said the restrooms with cafeteria are usually clean. It may be because private individuals manage it and they have economic opportunities.
The proprietor of Himalayan Travel Experts, Tenzin Yeshi, said if tourism is to be promoted there should be good tourism facilities.
He said roadside amenities and restrooms are not much of an issue in places like Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing. “But it is after crossing Wangdue.”
He said there is a long distance between some of the existing restaurants or restrooms along the east-west highway that causes inconvenience to travellers. “If the guests need to use a restroom in between and we don’t have the facility available, that’s when the tourists complain.”
Accommodation, transport and roadside amenities, including restrooms are key components of a major tourism destination, without which even waving off the tariff won’t have much impact in promoting tourism especially in the east, he added.
He said lack of such facilities undermines the quality of the visitors’ travel experiences in Bhutan.
A caretaker of restroom at Dochula, Karma Tenzin, said it has been about three months that he took up the job. “The former caretaker left the job because he said it is not profitable.”
The 21-year-old said some do not flush after use. “I check and clean the toilets because some tourists complain and refuse to pay if it’s dirty.”
He collects Nu 10 per use. On an average, he gets about 30 users a day during tourist season. “Otherwise, I hardly see people coming to use the restroom.”