Yangchen C Rinzin  

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has reprioritised its entire tourism flagship programme to help engage those affected by Covid-19 pandemic in the tourism industry.

The new tourism stimulus package will benefit about 2,436 people in the tourism industry who would be engaged through four different projects under the package.

They would be deployed in infrastructure and product development, surveys, studies or services, training and reskilling and waste management, among others.

TCB’s director-general, Dorji Dhradhul, said that the stimulus package was prepared after re-prioritising the Tourism Flagship activities and re-adjusting the budget based on the Covid-19 situation.

He said that some of the activities under the flagship that were supposed to start next year were re-prioritised and brought forward to this year. A few others planned this year were pushed down the priority list and deferred.

The expected budget for the stimulus plan is Nu 286 Million, which would be adjusted from the Nu 1.5 Billion kept for the tourism flagship programme.

Those interested workers registered for the package are tourist guides, tour operators, drivers and cooks.

Of the 3,379 who had registered, only 2,436 were verified after some voluntarily withdrew and others did not meet the criteria. Of the registered, 49 percent opted for training and re-skilling followed by 19 percent choosing survey and studies.

The first project would have activities like construction of roadside amenities, site development at Taktshang, and construction of pit toilets at campsites and trails.

Workers will be trained in hotel assessing, re-skilling for hotel staff, and refresher courses for tour guides in the second project.

The third project, which is on waste management, will include activities like cleaning campaigns along trekking routes, and the fourth project will focus on tourism employment survey, and updating Google street view imagery refresh project.

The stimulus package has proposed a payment of Nu 6,000 a month for training and re-skilling and Nu 15,000 a month salary for construction and development work.

Dorji Dhradhul said that the stimulus package would benefit more than 1,500 tour guides, hotel staff, and 460 craftsmen who would be trained and reskilled.

“With this, we would also have popular tourist sites in five dzongkhags facelifted and beautified,” he said, adding 64 hotel assessors would be trained while 638 budget hotels would be assessed.

Some of the activities that were de-prioritised in the flagship were support for community festival and events, capacity development for TCB officials, and infrastructure and product development in the restricted areas.

“Two of the activities in the Annual Performance Agreement won’t be achieved due to Covid-19 pandemic impact on tourist,” Dorji Dhradhul said. “The activities include gross contribution receipt from tourism and increasing ratio of high spending to low spending.”

However, the director-general said that some of the key challenges would be the willingness of the targeted beneficiary to take up the works, availability of skilled workers, and supply of raw materials in case of a lockdown.

“Some of the approval or directives required from the government are to issue executive order at the earliest to award the work to sector associate employees,” he said. “We also need a special order for clearance from the forest deparment, National Environment Commission, and the gewogs.”

Approving the TCB’s proposed budget for the stimulus package, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that TCB should ensure that they explore the possibilities to involve other relevant agencies and outsource some of the activities.

“Not all in the tourism sector will have the skills or expertise required, so TCB can use a group of unemployed engineers so that they can also grow,” Lyonchhen said. “There are many plans to be readjusted and re-prioritised in the flagships to align with the Covid-19 situation.”

Lyonchhen said that depending on the situation, the plans that cannot be implemented at all can be cancelled or deferred.

 “However, the reprioritisation must ensure that it helps those who have lost jobs currently.”

Lyonchhen also suggested TCB to immediately have a project office that could work round the clock and be able to provide the services and to immediately implement the project.

“This is a time-bound project and if there is a need to involve a few of the civil servants, we can request the Royal Civil Service Commission. We should now make TCB busy and work 24/7 and help those in need.”