Thukten Zangpo 

The tourists could be allowed to stay in non-star hotels, said Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering during the meeting with representatives of the private sector at the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Thimphu yesterday.

“Visitors have the right to decide where they can stay,” he said, adding that to expand and include more hotels in the tourists category, the services have to be improved.

With the opening of tourism in the country in September last year, the non-star hotels could not cater to international tourists because as per the recent tourism policy, all tourists visiting the country should stay in 3-star or above-rated hotels.

Based on the standardisation of Blue Poppy 1 and 2 categories, which catered to regional tourists prior to the pandemic, Lyonchhen said that the tourists now could stay in these two certified hotels.

Blue Poppy measures up to the international 1-star and 2-star level hotels.

There are about 638 non-star hotels in the country. Nearly 400 hotels catered services to the regional tourists. The remaining hotels  that could not be qualified for Blue Poppy category, the government will provide supports, including term loans, Lyonchhen said.

He, however, asked the officials from the Department of Tourism (DoT) to review and standardise the hotels.

An official from DoT said that there is a possibility of incorporating the non-star hotels during the rating review of the three-star and above hotels, which will be reviewed in May or June this year.

Tourists in other countries are allowed to look for their own hotels, Lyonchhen said. However, in Bhutan, as a guided system, agents or tour guides take tourists to the hotels.

Some agents or tourist guides tend to keep the visitors in cheap hotels in order to maximise profit margin, he said. “There should be strict monitoring in place since the visitors this time are paying a sustainable development fee.”

Lyonchhen added that the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) should also discourage the guests who do not qualify for Blue Poppy hotel.

He said that hoteliers should be given the pride to upgrade and get certified by the DoT.

There are still options for the non-star hotels to upgrade, convert to offices or apartments, or to sell the hotel, Lyonchhen said.

Chairman of the HRAB, Jigme Tshering, said that the issue of the non-star hotels cannot be left behind until the plans are clearly laid out.

Vice-Chairman of HRAB, Tshewang Jurmey, said that the hoteliers are willing to adhere to the government’s minimum basic criteria for all hotels, to cater services to the tourists on safety and security of the guests, personal hygiene, and services.

Jigme Tshering said that there is a need for diversification of tourism services and products.

The government, he said, could also incentives product diversification in trekking, adventure, bird-watching, and ecotourism for both travel agencies and visitors.