In the Female Fire Rooster Year, tourism sector’s stand on the issues and challenges shifted from mere reflection to policy implementation.

The beginning of the year once again raised issues of growing regional tourists and uneven distribution of tourism benefit in the country.

The trial online permit system introduced at Phuentsholing paved the path for policies to address the increasing regional tourists. Tourists arriving with e-permit required a local tourist guide, vehicle of registration with the local authority and also require staying in a certified hotel.

Although the system was beneficial for tour agents, it was not for the smalltime hoteliers.

Stakeholders submitted an appeal to the Cabinet. A proposal to introduce new changes with effect from January 1 was so made.

The decision is expected to resolve the growing regional tourists issue and uphold Bhutan’s high-value, low-impact policy.

Following e-permit system, entry permit fee for monuments across the country was introduced. This meant better experience for tourists with allotted tour guides and employment for the guides.

Although Tourism Levy Exemption Bill aimed to encourage the tourists towards the eastern part of the country, the National Council and the Opposition opposed the idea. The bill, which would waive off royalty of USD 65 a day also meant a direct impact on the country’s high value, low impact policy.

The sector’s decisions and policies were guided by the country’s high value, low impact policy.

In the bird year, the sector also viewed domestic tourists as an important part for tourism growth.

This discussion reiterated concerns about large outflow of domestic tourists resulting in formulation of the package pilgrimage regulation.

Although a tourism policy was recommended for the long-term benefit, the sector is still drafting the policy.

The country also identified significant landscapes for their sustenance. Ngawang Ramtoe, Buli, and Gangtey were studied for a possible heritage landscapes.

The sector’s efforts continued to invite more international tourists in the female fire bird year. Bhutan-Thailand and Bhutan-Korea friendship was celebrated. The first k-pop was a notable success. The celebration of fifty years of Bhutan-India friendship also began towards the end of the bird year.

As the year neared completion, a few hitches in the sector were uncovered.  The sector was criticised  for trying to cover the issue of undercutting.

Licence of a travel agent, Amen Bhutan, was suspended for 12 months starting November 1.

A French artist’s graffiti garnered much attention from the public. The artist’s graffiti on heritage sites was viewed as disrespectful with some calling it cultural vandalism. The sector also slapped a guide with a penalty of Nu 10,000 for breaching two sections of the guides’ code of conduct. He had been in relationship with a tourist and had solicited money.

In the Male Earth Dog Year, these events could be reminder for the sector to shift its focus on the weaknesses.

Phurpa Lhamo