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Bhutan to re-open for tourists from September; concerns over policy changes

“COVID-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated… while keeping carbon footprints low,” Foreign Ministry Tandi Dorji, also the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), was quoted as saying by Kuensel.

Jul 02, 2022
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Bhutan is all set to reopen its border for foreign tourists from September—for the first time since the Covid-19—with a hike in the daily tariff and other reforms aimed at achieving sustainable tourism goals and keeping the country carbon neutral. 

However, a section of the industry remains sceptical of new measures and possible adverse outcomes.

The Himalayan Buddhist kingdom with 70 per cent forest cover and pristine air quality, wedged between India and China, has been closed to outsiders since March 2020 when the pandemic first struck. Strict pandemic measures affected its economy, caused job losses and severely impacted the economy.

Failure to open tourism, one of the major sources of income, has not only affected the government revenue but also common people, depending on it for their livelihood. Over 50,000 out of the total 700,000 people were dependent on tourism for their jobs.

Now, when the sector is finally being opened, the government has increased a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) from earlier $65 per person per night to $200 per tourist per night, under the recently passed Tourism Levy Bill 2022.

“COVID-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated… while keeping carbon footprints low,” Foreign Ministry Tandi Dorji, also the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), was quoted as saying by Kuensel. 

The policy, the government argues, would put focus on revamping three areas – upgrading infrastructure and services, elevation of tourists’ experiences, and maintaining carbon-neutral tourism. The aim is to make the country a high-end tourist destination. However, not everyone is convinced. There is also fear among some sections.

“The concern expressed is unanimous – that the proposed change would defeat its purpose because guides would become jobless, hotels would be locked, and tourism revenue would decline, derailing the economy,” noted an editorial in Kuensel, a state-backed English daily.

However, some of the reforms were long pending such as allowing visitors to plan their own itineraries, choosing multiple service providers and others. Under earlier provisions, a visitor had to select only one tour operator and a package that he offers. Changes giving more freedom to tourists will obviously incentive them.

Furthermore, to enhance visitor experience, certification of hotels and employees would be strengthened, including mandatory skill training and other education.

Tour operators said visitors would be free to choose their own operators and plan itineraries, whereas before they could choose only from the packages offered by their operators.

(SAM)

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