Dechen Dolkar 

Tour operators and hotels are not required to pay business bonds according to the tourism rules and regulations 2022 which came into effect on September 23.

The draft rules and regulations were submitted to the Cabinet after the consultation meeting with tourism service providers. However, the provision requiring tour operators and hotels to pay business bonds of Nu 500,000 was dropped.

Similarly, the new rules have dropped capping on the age of tourist vehicles, the driver’s age, and vehicle type.

A tourist visiting Bhutan or a service provider on their behalf can apply for a visa or permit as per the procedure prescribed by the immigration department.

The rules and regulations also state a tourist or service provider on the tourist’s behalf can apply for a visa or permit including delay or extension and pay the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) as per the procedure adopted by the Department of Immigration.

“A day visitor spending a night within the border towns of Bhutan or travelling beyond the designated point will have to pay SDF,” rules and regulations state.

A tourist with a visa or permit will be allowed to visit any areas, except those which fall within the restricted areas. Tourists will be allowed to visit restricted areas identified as trekking routes by the TCB if accompanied by a trekking guide.

Guides service 

A tour guide is mandatory for all tours except from the entry point up to the first hotel. A tourist will engage a guide with relevant specialisation based on the nature of the tour and will be open to choosing and changing tour guides.

The tour guides may be categorised into three levels of competency: culture tour guide; culture and any area of specialisation tour guide; and tour leader.

The rules state that a minimum of one guide will be arranged for every 10 tourists in a group or a maximum of 15 tourists if accompanied by a tour leader. A trekking guide needs to be assigned for every seven tourists and maximum of 15 tourists in case accompanied by a tour leader.

Transport services

According to the tourism rules and regulations, TCB will certify a tourist vehicle which then has to be registered and assessed by the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) on the roadworthiness and all other requirements as per the authority’s regulations.

A person with a valid professional driving licence by the RSTA may apply to be certified as a tourist vehicle driver.

“A tourist visiting Bhutan and travelling beyond the designated point, driving their vehicle including two-wheelers, may be facilitated upon payment of Nu 4,500 per vehicle per night,” the rule states.

Cancellation of services

A tourist is allowed to cancel the agreed tourism service at any time before the start of the service or in the course of providing the services upon payment of the cancellation fee. The rules state that the cancellation fee will be based on the cancellation policy of the respective service providers.

However, if there are no clear provisions for cancellation and refund in the service provider’s service policy, TCB will facilitate the resolution of any dispute related to the cancellation and refund.

The rules state that a 100 percent refund will be given to tourists if cancellation is within eight or more days from the effective date of service and a 50 percent refund of the agreed service cost if cancellation is within four to seven days from the effective date of service.

Similarly, only 20 percent refund of the agreed service cost, if cancellation is within two to three days from the effective date of service, and no refund, will be given if cancellation is within 24 hours from the effective date of service or later.

Any complaint or dispute related to the provision of tourism services shall be settled by the TCB or the dispute settlement committee as provided in the standard operating procedure for handling complaints adopted by the TCB.