Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhul, said that the decision of the government to allow tourists into Bhutan is a wise move. TCB has no idea as to how many tourists will be welcomed under the arrangement, as all tourists will be required to stay in quarantine for 21 days and pay for it.
“This approach provides an opportunity to promote our ‘high-value, low-volume tourist policy’, while also reinforcing the Brand Bhutan. We want to make, Bhutan, the world’s most exclusive tourist destination. Not everyone can visit the country, and because of the carrying capacity, we will not be able to cope if more tourists visit the country,” he said.
He said that economically, it won’t make much of a difference, at first, but that isn’t the primary goal because it has long-term benefits, such as improving Bhutan’s image. It was tough to enter the nation before, and it is even more difficult now.
“Currently, we are accepting tourists with a 21-day quarantine period, which is not appealing to the common people, but it will boost tourism in keeping with our objective of ‘high value, low volume’,” he said.
As per TCB, once the COVID-19 situation subsides, the number of tourists might increase. The country has thousands of tour operators and guides, but everyone will not get the opportunity because there will be lesser number of tourists visiting the country.
He said, “Even if we completely open up, we will not be able to attract more tourists, in the first place, since the situation, not only in Bhutan but also globally, remains extremely dangerous. A majority of countries have not yet opened their doors to tourists.”
SDF will be levied to the tourist during quarantine period as per the Tourism Rules and Regulations 2017 by which various discounts are available.
Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) of USD 250 will be applicable only after the mandatory quarantine.
Approval of tourist will be based on how much the country can manage since it will be easier for the TCB to keep track of them because the COVID -19 is still ongoing. Even though they will be remaining for 21 days and their results will be negative, TCB will ensure that everyone follows strict COVID-19 standards.
“While tourists are welcome to enter the nation, their movements will be closely monitored. We will keep a close eye on tourist itineraries. So safety is important, not only for our citizens but also for visitors. We’ll try to persuade them not to attend large gatherings, and we’ll keep an eye on their movements,” he said.
Though it will not make a significant economic difference, the country is allowing tourists to keep tourism alive globally. Bookings will be made on a case-by-case basis with a listed number of tour operators. If the tour operators receive any tourists who wish to visit the country, they must notify TCB, and the request will be submitted to the National COVID-19 Taskforce for approval, he added.
He added that it is not so much reopening of tourism, but preparation for reopening by piloting a small number of specific cases that will be rigorously observed.
“This decision is a temporary measure that could be changed at any time. If a community transmission occurs in Thimphu, we will promptly notify the tourists and inform them that they will not be permitted. It will be determined by the COVID -19 scenario in the country,” he added.
All tourists will have to produce a laboratory certified COVID-19 negative certificate and carry out RT-PCR test, not earlier than 72 hours, before embarking or the initiation of a journey from the country of origin. In addition, it is encouraged to have both the doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and also to check for other travel requirements if transiting through another country.
Meanwhile, next week, the country will welcome its first and only tourist for the year. On 9 August, an American visitor, traveling through an agent, is anticipated to arrive in Bhutan.
The Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that as long as tourist will follow the 21-days quarantine and other guidelines then the TCB does not even require to ask the government for permission.
He said the tourist will have to follow the quarantine be it 21-days or two weeks or even 10 days as per government policy.
He said that the TCB’s initiatives need not even be endorsed by the cabinet as a minister in the form of Lyonpo Tandi Dorji is heading the TCB and will keep the cabinet informed. He said at the same time the TCB will also be accountable for its actions.
Lyonchhen said the TCB cannot take decisions on waiver of tax which has to go to Parliament, it cannot take policy decisions which has to go via GNHC and it cannot take calls on visa which has to be handled by the Home Ministry.
The PM said that Bhutan does not even have to announce that it is opening tourism as it has not stopped people coming from other countries.
Lyonchhen said that as of now there is no difference in tourists who have got vaccinated or not and there are no vaccine passport standards as long as the quarantine is done and the tourist comes out testing negative.
He said the tourists will have to pay for their quarantine stay and the Nu 3,000 per RT-PCR test but vaccination will be offered free.