Direct flights from the Indian city of Guwahati to domestic airports in the near future is not possible.

Speaking at the second meet the press yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering explained that airports must be upgraded to international airports should there be direct flights from Guwahati.

The initial motion moved by Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji in the recently concluded National Assembly session proposed starting direct flights from Guwahati to Bumthang, Yonphula and Gelephu domestic airports. However, lyonchhen clarified that the House upon realising the lack of feasibility of direct flights in the near future modified the motion.

According to the modified version of the motion, Druk Air would be responsible for studying the feasibility of such flights.

Dr Lotay Tshering also said that the government was not in a position to allow Druk Air to incur loss.

The prime minister said the government supported the amended motion since it worked for the country despite the motion coming from the Opposition.

“I think most of the media took lead from the National Assembly website, where the message was wrong,” he said. The National Assembly website stated that the House had endorsed the motion to start direct flights from Guwahati to Bhutan’s domestic airports.

The House however, endorsed the decision to open five additional entry and exit points for tourists in the southern border. Currently, Phuentsholing is the only entry point for regional tourists to travel into the country by road.

According to the resolution, regional tourists coming to Bhutan should use local vehicles.

“Opening more entry points for tourists was in the country’s interests and that it was the common pledge of all the political parties. “We need to diversify the entry points and we agree to that,” Dr Lotay Tshering said.

However, he added that the government would study the pros and cons before implementing the decision. “We must have a good monitoring tool in place. I said the same in Parliament,” he said.

He said that additional entry points for tourists in the south would be opened on a need basis and that all would not be opened at one go. The National Assembly’s resolution states that the government would open entry and exit points for tourists at Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nanglam and Panbang.

Lycochhen said the tourists must use Bhutanese vehicles and should hire Bhutanese guides. However, he added that it was a difficult motion for the government to implement.

“Will that increase in the number of tourists coming to Bhutan?” he said, adding that Bhutanese would be in a difficult situation if India imposes similar rules on Bhutanese travelling to India. He said that the issue should be analyaed carefully.

The motion was aimed at promoting tourism for balanced regional development. In 2017, Bhutan recorded tourist arrival of 254,704, of which 183,287 were regional tourists.

The sector contributed USD 79,807 to the exchequer. However, direct benefits of the industry have not reached all the dzongkhags.

Paro had the highest number of international arrivals at 27.5 percent in 2017, followed by 26.4 percent in Thimphu and 23.1 percent in Punakha. Wangdue saw 7.9 percent arrivals while Bumthang received 5.1 percent of the arrivals.

The rest of the dzongkhags saw less than five percent of the total arrivals in the country. Pemagatshel, Tsirang, and Dagana did not receive any tourist in 2017.

MB Subba