Dechen Dolkar 

Service providers say that the draft tourism rules and regulations that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has shared with the stakeholders for their feedback are ambiguous.

TCB shared the document with the stakeholders for feedback.

Executive Director (ED) of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji, said that the feedback submitted to TCB were brief. “We want to discuss more during the consultation meeting on what basis the rules and regulations were formed.”

The rules and regulations, he said, are more restrictive and do not create a conducive environment for the service providers.

Sonam Dorji said that the time given for the feedback was not enough.

One of the tour operators said that the stakeholders should have been consulted during the drafting of rules and regulations.

The draft rules state that the vehicle for tourists should be luxury SUVs (above 1,900cc), luxury buses (above 2,400cc), or electric vehicles (40kWh of battery pack).

With these requirements, only Tucson, Santa Fe, Land Cruiser and Prado are eligible as luxury SUVs tourist vehicles.

For a vehicle to be certified by the TCB as a tourist vehicle, it will have to be certified and registered with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) and has to meet all the requirements of commercial passenger vehicle specifications.

According to the draft rules and regulations, vehicles for tourists should not be older than seven years from the date of registration with the RSTA.

Many tourism service providers have bought second-hand buses in preparation for the re-opening of tourism.

One of the tour operators said that as long as roadworthiness is certified and issued by the RSTA, it should suffice. “Why is TCB interfering with tourist vehicles?”

The tour operators said that tourist vehicles in the country are in good condition even if they are 10 to 15 years old.

“For the safety of the tourists and for the company’s reputation, the vehicles are provided in good conditions,” the tour operator said.

A tour operator claimed that smaller cc SUVs are more fuel efficient and go in line with the plan to use less fossil fuel.

With the new criteria, 90 percent of the tourist’s vehicles in the country will not be eligible.

A transporter who owns more than 30 tourist vehicles said that with the new regulation, only one to two vehicles are eligible.

He said that most of the tourist vehicles in the market were purchased in 2018.

“Banks will not provide loans and the government is also not providing incentives to buy these luxury SUV vehicles,” the transporter said.

For instance, if a tour operator purchases a Hiace bus which costs around Nu 5M on loan, he or she has to repay the loan of Nu 59,600 per month for seven years, excluding interest. The operator will be able to earn Nu 59,600 if the vehicle is on duty for 20 days and make Nu 3,000 a day.

A tour operator said that most vehicles used in the tourism industry are those purchased using civil servants’ vehicle quota.

Tour operators and hotel owners have to provide a business bond of Nu 500,000 when setting up the business, according to the draft Tourism Rules and Regulations 2022.

The tour operator said that the government is blocking money in the market by requiring a business bond. With this money, the company could invest in the market.

He said that now they are asked to deposit a business bond which is not relevant as the tour operators have no authority to apply for visas on behalf of tourists.