Phase II will engage about 1,200

Yangchen C Rinzin

The Tourism Stimulus Package (TSP) engaged 1,068 laid off people from the tourism sector in the first phase and has spent Nu 90 million (M).

As part of the Economic Contingency Plan, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) designed the package to help those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the tourism industry and engage gainfully.

The government had approved Nu 286M for the package.

The staff- drivers, guides, cooks, tour operators, and other hotel staff were engaged in four different projects in infrastructure and product development, surveys, studies or services, training and reskilling and waste management.

They were paid a stipend of Nu 6,000 and a wage rate of Nu 500 to 1,000 a day based on the work they took up besides availing Druk Gyapo’s Relief Kidu.

Head of Tourism ECP, Tashi Tenzin said that training and reskilling and surveys, studies or services were not implemented fully because of the Covid-19 norms to maintain physical distance.

Some of the activities taken up were beautification and up-gradation of tourist sites including developing new trails, roadside amenities and cleaning of campsites in Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. Guides have also revived and constructed a bridge along the Trashigang till Haa to develop East-West trails and has covered 28 gewogs for now. “It’s almost 400km and once completed, it will benefit locals as well as promote tourism when it opens,” Tashi Tenzin said.

Tashi Tenzin said that Thimphu, Paro and Punakha were selected as these places were tourist hotspots and a majority of the affected were from these places. “We had to ensure we invest in the right place where tourists would visit once we reopen. Otherwise, it would be a waste since the engagement also aimed to facelift tourism.”

Although training and reskilling programmes were dropped, TCB had managed to train about 20 people working in spa and handicraft in traditional herbs and wellness. Tashi Tenzin said that they could not carry out nationwide tourism resource inventory. It is planned in the second phase.

The inventory would contain a comprehensive database containing tourist attractions, products, services and infrastructure in 20 dzongkhags. The second phase is expected to start from July 15, where TCB would engage about 1,200 people. The Prime Minister’s Office has also approved a budget of Nu 165M.

Tashi Tenzin said that TCB plans to engage those who did not get an opportunity in the first phase.

Some of the major works will include beautification of tourism areas, digitisation of trekking areas and training and reskilling of guides at advance level.

“We also plan to enhance a 60-km biking trail in Thimphu for immediate local tourists and future international tourists,” he added. “We aim to train and reskill almost 1,000 people in the second phase.”

Tashi Tenzin said that although 4,000 affected people had registered, TCB could not engage all the people and those engaged were selected based on first come first basis as TCB cannot engage staff for a long time.

He added that TCB could not come with long time projects, as there are no tourists right now.

“Our engagement was mainly for short time projects during the current situation. We need concrete activities that will have end products, and we had to engage only those we could.”

As per the Budget Report 2020, revenue from the tourism sector declined by 41 percent in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019.

Bhutan saw more than 2,400 cancellations of visa after the onset of Covid-19 in March and the closure of hotels and allied businesses catering to the sector.