Rinzin Wangchuk 

Many tour operators in Thailand sought clarification on the new tourism strategy and questioned the hike in the sustainable development fee (SDF) at a tourism promotion event in Bangkok.

The ambassador of Bhutan to Thailand, Kinzang Dorji, clarified that the new tourism policy and strategies will provide greater flexibility in planning and choice of services for visitors in place of the packaged tours under the earlier system of minimum daily package rate (MDPR).

Tour operators in Thailand have been organising and marketing Bhutan for many years to both domestic and foreign tourists.

With the adoption of the Tourism Levy Act 2022 by the Parliament in June this year, the government removed MDPR, which included the royalty of USD 65, and introduced USD 200 SDF for each visitor per day.

“This system in place will also enable visitors to engage with their service providers directly and pay for their services accordingly providing new opportunities for service providers to offer innovative new products and programmes,” Ambassador Kinzang Dorji said. “Overall, this will enhance the travel experience of visitors and the service standards of the industry.”

Organised by the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok on September 23 following the official reopening of borders, the event was attended by more than 100 people working in Thailand Tourism Industry, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and airlines. “Perhaps, the event saw one of the biggest gatherings of tour operators in Bangkok for Bhutan,” an embassy official said.

Ambassador said that tourism has been and will continue to be an important economic sector for Bhutan. He also said that the break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has given time to examine the way Bhutan implemented its tourism policy of “high value, low volume” and find ways to revamp the sector in the best possible way.

Ambassador Kinzang Dorji said that Bhutan has been recognised as a ‘global hotspot, carbon negative country, pristine environment with over 70 percent forest cover, rich cultural heritage, unique national identity, beautiful snow-capped mountains, clear blue skies, clean rivers, beautiful lakes, governance based on Gross National Happiness (GNH) and regarded as number one travel destination for 2020 by the Lonely Planet.

“Yet, there are also undeniable issues and challenges such as; congestion and overconsumption, undue pressure on our resources and ecological systems impacting severely on our sustainability which is at the forefront of all our developmental agenda,” he said. “Therefore, the reforms we are taking today are conscious and deliberate considerations for Bhutan’s future and its future generations.”

The ambassador said that Bhutan is looking forward to welcoming visitors from Thailand since Thailand is an important source market for Bhutan’s tourism industry and has been playing a pivotal role in the inbound tourism of Bhutan.

The average number of Thai tourists before the pandemic visiting Bhutan every year was about 4,000. “But most of tourists visiting Bhutan travel through or from Thailand,” Ambassador Kinzang Dorji told Kuensel.

He also unveiled the new Brand Bhutan which was inaugurated formally by Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering in Thimphu on September 22.

The ambassador highlighted that tourism is a strategic asset of the nation for preserving and enhancing Bhutan’s social, cultural, environmental,  and economic dimensions, and protecting the country’s cultural and natural assets.

Ambassador Kinzang Dorji said that Thai tour operators were very positive as long as Bhutan could live up to their expectations in terms of providing services and facilities.

Meanwhile, of the 120 international visitors Bhutan received when it reopened its border on September 23, 34 foreigners arrived from Bangkok.