On the first day in the office, the Prime Minister with the Cabinet Ministers issued four Executive Orders and ten directives to different ministries.
Among these directives, the Ministry of Industry Commerce and Employment (MoICE) was tasked with drafting a detailed Action Plan to boost tourist arrivals and submitting a report with suggestions on promoting tourism in southern border towns by March 1, 2024.
During a discussion with the newly appointed MoICE Minister Namgyal Dorji, he mentioned, “In accordance with government instructions, we are establishing a committee comprising representatives from the industry, government, and non-governmental organizations. Initially, the committee will focus on devising strategies to boost tourist arrivals to 300,000 and reassess the Sustainable Development Fee system in towns along the southern border.”
Regarding the collaborating with the stakeholders, the ministry will have a core committee composed of representatives from all tourism stakeholders to work on an action plan which will be implemented together with the private sector, led by the Department of Tourism.
The Ministry outlined several potential strategies, though they are not yet finalized such as increase marketing efforts through attending high-end tourism events and organizing Bhutan roadshows in key markets in collaboration with the private sector.
These are, collaborating closely with national and international partners to develop joint marketing initiatives aimed at boosting tourist numbers.
Utilizing media and influencers to raise awareness of Bhutan and position it as a premier tourist destination. Focus on attracting MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) tourism by offering incentives such as waiving the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for MICE tourists.
Facilitate international travel to and from Bhutan via Samdrup Jongkhar and Establish Joint Marketing Agreements (JMA) with national and international stakeholders to support efforts in attracting more tourists.
Streamline visa procedures to make visiting Bhutan more accessible. Foster closer collaboration with the private sector to facilitate affordable connections with international tourism partners for business-to-business deals.
Engage embassies in promoting Bhutan to boost visitor numbers. Enhance tourism infrastructure and facilities while also professionalizing the tourism industry.
And encourage film and documentary producers to showcase Bhutan, recognizing their effectiveness in promoting the country as a tourist destination.
Lyonpo noted that historically, India has consistently been a major tourism source for Bhutan, thanks to our close proximity and strong bilateral ties. Additionally, the Ministry will prioritize attracting tourists from the USA, Japan, Russia, GCC countries, Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in its action plan.
“Regarding the report on Promotion of Tourism in Border Towns in the South, we’ve already identified relevant agencies to join the subcommittee and assist the core committee members in assessing the situation in border areas. This committee will engage with stakeholders from these areas to understand their challenges and concerns, and devise concrete solutions and deliverables to enhance tourism in border regions,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo elaborated, stating, “Our immediate focus is on reassessing the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) regulations for tourists visiting southern border towns, with a view to potentially exempting tourists from paying the SDF within these areas. Through this review process, we aim to understand the challenges and opportunities present in these border towns, which will inform our recommendations. The core team will gather necessary data and information from relevant authorities, and we’ll also conduct field visits and interviews to ensure an informed decision-making process.”
The final draft of the action plan is scheduled to be completed by February 25th. Once the action plan is finalized and approved, the ministry will proceed to develop implementation milestones.