The undercutting issue, that has plagued the tourism industry for the past decade, needs immediate redress according to the members of the industry.
If the practice of undercutting is not stopped, they said, then tourism sector could never truly attain its vast potential to generate revenue for the country or accomplish the aspiration of becoming the largest contributor to the economy.
“While on paper it might show that the tourist arrival has increased but in terms of actual revenue earned it might not be the case because of undercutting,” a tour operator said.
Tour operators said that undercutting has become rampant in the industry and has adverse effect of a cancerous disease.
Younten Jamtsho, who has been a guide for 14 years and who recently set up a travel company, said that undercutting was making doing business difficult and pushing new ventures like his into taking up the practice.
“When I tell clients that the tour package is USD 250, they tell me with details of tour companies who do it for USD 170 and ask me why I can’t offer it at that rate,” he said.
He said that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and the government has to intervene and fix the problem.
“The situation is such that we are almost contacting the disease ourselves.”
More than a hundred participants drew out a long list of priorities and recommendations to improve tourism services for the sector to become the largest contributor to the country’s economy.
Other recommendations include need of a credit card facility to transfer payments, keeping museums and parks open throughout the week and holidays, regulating regional tourists, drafting a tourism policy, promoting domestic tourism, specialised training of guides, and a single window to process visa and permits.
To promote tourists in the dzongkhags, participants said the TCB should relax its rule of all tourists lodging in three star hotels in the dzongkhags until higher-grade hotels are in place.
A representative from an NGO, Yeshey Dorji said that the country could be an exotic destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.
“But we need to ask the government to delink Drukair from DHI and rationalise the fares because today 60 percent of the cost is the airfare,” he said.
“Drukair should only focus on the flights and leave the tour business to us,” another tour operator said.
While there is much emphasis on community-based tourism, there are restrictions to visit certain places, which is not logical, a civil servant said.
Trongsa’s planning officer Phuntsho Rinzin said that not every place has potential in tourism. “That’s why a dzongkhag level tourism development plan was necessary before investing in developing any infrastructure,” he said.
Haa is the only dzongkhag that has a complete plan today.
“Trongsa is reviving the four heritage palaces and old trails between them which would also benefit neighbouring dzongkhags – Bumthang and Zhemgang,” he said.
Representatives from Association of Bhutan Tour Operators, Guide Association of Bhutan, Hotel and Restaurants Association of Bhutan, non-government organisations, Tourism Council of Bhutan, civil servants, and the media called for a collective action to make tourism the largest contributor of the economy.
One of the participants said that the government incentive to promote tourism in the eastern dzongkhags given to the hoteliers has to be given to the tour operators as well.
Participants said that they hope gasawith a new government and a new director general of TCB, the conference would not end with just empty talk.
TCB director general Dorji Dhradhul said that the recommendations would be implemented and submissions made to the government where necessary.
“We assure you that we’ll act on these issues and if you feel nothing is being done then you should question us,” he said.
He said that some of the recommendations like creating an alternative trail for Taktshang monastery, improving services at the Taktshang café, and waste management were already underway.