The lack of roadside amenities is perhaps a tourist’s nightmare during their stay in Bhutan
Tourism: Of the various activities that tourists indulge in to experience the Bhutanese tradition and culture, relieving behind the bush is one of them.
The lack of roadside amenities like restrooms has compelled tourists to do so, a practice that guides in jest refer to as “going behind George Bush.”
However, not all tourists find this funny and complain a lot, guides said.
Besides, reliving behind a bush becomes a risky affair in the rugged terrain, according to the guides. At times, guides said that they don’t have a choice but to ask guests to drink less water especially after crossing Wangdue given the terrain and lack of roadside amenities.
In places with restroom facilities, most guides pointed out that it wasn’t usable or either locked. Even tourist standard restaurants were plagued with the same issue.
Guides Association of Bhutan’s chairman Garab Dorji said the issue of roadside amenities or restroom facilities has existed for more than two decades. “Even now there isn’t much improvement,” he said, adding that the existing restroom facilities didn’t serve much purpose. “Where there are toilets, there are no water or toilet paper.”
Restroom facilities, he said are also required in all dzongs and museums given the increasing number of visitors.
Every year, besides food-related complaints, Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) annual report highlights improvement of road conditions and need for restrooms.
The 2013 report indicated lack of public toilet facilities and restrooms along highways, trekking trails, and campsites. Visitors also pointed out that toilets in popular tourist attractions were in need of better maintenance and quality.
Tour operators said lack of such facilities undermines the quality of the travel experiences in Bhutan. Some tour operators arrange toilet tents during long journeys.
The situation, however, is likely to improve. TCB has plans to develop 18 restrooms throughout the country by the end of 2018.
“Our priority is to allow private sector to manage the facilities as this mode of operation can only be sustainable,” the head of marketing and promotion division Damcho Rinzin said.
Management and care of such facilities is a challenge for TCB as well.
For instance, officials said that TCB couldn’t find a full time caretaker for the restroom at Dochula to maintain the restroom despite the incentives.
“We continue to explore ways of managing it properly,” Damcho Rinzin said. “The idea of restroom and cafeteria will work because having a cafeteria facility will generate interest for private individuals to manage the restroom facilities because of economic opportunities.”
Building a restroom facility, according to TCB costs about Nu 1.5 million (M) while a cafeteria with restroom facilities cost about Nu 3.5M.
Development of roadside amenities for tourists is also one of the key indicators of the performance management agreement between TCB and the government.
TCB officials highlighted the issue during the midterm review in early March during which lyonchoen urged government agencies and the private sector to take initiative to maintain toilets for which the government was willing to provide support.
As of last year, TCB along with the private sector have developed about 14 amenities across the country.