Nima Wangdi

With the new Tourism Levy Act coming into effect on June 20, tour guides are unsure about their engagement.

In the past, tour operators employed tour guides, but with the change in the policy that allows tourists to directly contact hoteliers, many guides said they might lose jobs as hotels have their own trained guides.

While some guides are hopeful tourists might still choose to come through tour operators, many said tourists might establish links with hotels directly.

According to a guide, tourists choosing hotels might mean lesser jobs for them since most five-star and foreign direct investment (FDI) hotels have their own guides.

Another guide, Sangay Dendup, said guides might have to work with both the hotels and tour operators equally now.

He said more tourists are expected to visit after September 23 with border gates opening for international visitors. “Tourism Council of Bhutan should come up with a clear policy on how to engage tour guides.”

He has been in the business for 14 years.

Another guide said tour operators and hotels would now have to employ the best guides. “Employing inexperienced guides would disappoint tourists and senior guides will not be willing to work if they are not paid higher than before.”

Based on his experience of 20 years as a guide and a tour operator, he said tour operators would employ more guides since many tourists would still prefer coming through tour operators.

He said not many hotels are experienced to provide service to big groups, who would stay in the country for longer period. “Tourists coming in groups will always prefer tour operators since they will need their tour planning and hire guides and vehicles.”

He, however, agreed on the need for a clear policy for the guides.

The chairperson of the Guide Association of Bhutan, Garab Dorji, said that post-pandemic will see less number of tourists visiting the country, not because of only the increased SDF to 250 but due to the pandemic’s impact on the worldwide economy.

“Many people don’t have money to spend on tour at this point in time,” he said.

According to the chairperson, the new policy after the pandemic will also not affect more guides because only about 30 to 40 percent of the licensed guides were employed even before the pandemic.

He said the new policy would lead to competition among players, which would force everyone to improve their services. “The guides should also be up-skilled and trained professionally.”

Garab Dorji said that they are expecting budget from TCB to train the guides. “GAB will look for budgets and do it on our own if we do not get a budget from TCB because training of the guides has become important.”

He said TCB and GAB would also discuss where to launch the profile of the guides. “GAB can do it better with monitoring if given the chance. We will scrutinise their skills and qualifications to make sure that they are professionals.”

He said that despite the change in tourism policy, more than 60 percent of the tourists would still come through tour operators as it is a trend worldwide. “But the new policy provides hoteliers an opportunity to bring in and manage the tourists of less number who are in the country for a shorter duration.”

 He said there were incidences in the past where tour operators employed their own relatives who were new guides or sometimes not trained. “The new policy will have no room for such practices.”