The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has slapped a penalty of Nu 10,000 on a tour guide for breaching the code of conduct for guides, after a female tourist from Hong Kong alleged the guide of verbal and sexual harassment.

The guide was also instructed to refund USD 1,100 to the Council’s Forex Service Division that he had accepted from the complainant. He has to pay the penalty and refund the amount by April 24.

According to the TCB’s letter to the guide, Palden Singay issued on April 14 and signed by the legal officer, failure to pay the fine on the due date or similar kind of behaviour in future shall result in direct cancellation of his tour guide license.

The letter also states that he had agreed in having entered into a personal relation with the complainant, which thereby breaches section 4 (e) of the guides’ code of conduct under the rules and regulations for Tour Operators in Bhutan, 1999.

The guide was also found to have breached section 4 (i) of the rules and regulations by asking a favour from the client in the form of USD 1,100.

The decision was reached after both the complainant’s allegation and the guide’s response to the allegation were submitted to the TCB’s management during its meeting on April 4.

The 28-year-old female tourist lodged the complaint with the TCB via email on March 12. She had visited Bhutan in January for around 20 days and was on her second visit, according to the complainant’s elder sister Alice Sarah.

According to the complaint filed to the TCB, the tourist claimed that the guide’s brother who owns a travel agency through which she had visited Bhutan in January this year “disturbed and insulted her and also asked to conceal the crime.” The guide told Kuensel that he has no comments and to contact the TCB.

TCB spokesperson Damcho Rinzin said the guide was penalized for professional misconduct, which in this case was of having a relationship with the tourist and for soliciting favour of USD 1,100. He said breaching a clause amounts to a fine of Nu 5,000 and that council will transfer the amount to the tourist after the guide refunds it.

The tourist visited the country for the first time in December last year through another tour operator. According to Alice Sarah, her sister is suffering from amnesiac syndrome among others and cannot clearly remember the incident.  She said she is undergoing treatment at a special care unit in a hospital in Hong Kong since March 16.

Until she checked her sister’s email and chats, Alice Sarah said her family did not know what happened to her in Bhutan. “I saw her complaint letter to the TCB in her inbox,” she said.

Dechen Tshomo