The 15th Annual General Meeting for the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) was held yesterday among member tour operators. The annual progress reports, concerns and issues faced by the tour operators were the main agenda. Drukair also introduced its improvised fares and services during the event. Drukair announced that there will be daily flights to Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata and Kathmandu and an additional flight to Singapore starting on September 7.
The meeting noted that there has been a remarkable growth in the tourism sector in Bhutan, with 750 percent increase in number of tourist arrivals compared to 15 years ago. The six airbus aircrafts operated by the two airlines have helped to increase the frequency of flights and easing connectivity and number of arrivals.
Significant development in infrastructure, advent of international standard luxury hotels, restaurants, improved handicrafts and museums in the recent years have helped the growth of tourism industry. Underemployment and unemployment of tour guides was raised.
The phenomenal increase in non-royalty paying tourists, which if unchecked would be a hurdle in achieving the high value and low impact principle, and crowding of iconic tourist destinations including Paro Taktshang and Kichu Lhakhang were some of the issues discussed at the meeting. The national council is currently reviewing the tourism policy.
Chairman of ABTO, Sonam Tobgay Dorji, said, “It has been 15 years. It is an occasion to reflect and celebrate. The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators has worked relentlessly to promote and support tour operators and travel industries in line, with the noble vision of GNH based on the principle of high value and low impact”.
Six recommendations, the maintenance of hotels by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, monitoring and regulating road worthiness by the Road Safety and Transport Authority and traffic police, important sites, like dzongs to be guided by professional guides, introduction of green fees for non-Bhutanese vehicles entering into the country, requirement of VISA or passports for check ins, and licensed tour operators to be allowed to process the route permits to non-tariff paying tourists have been proposed by ABTO to the Prime Minister who is the Chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The top 5 tour operators were recognized and awarded based on the highest sales record in three years (2012-2014) by the Drukair during the event.