In what may be seen as a controversial decision the government has allowed two tour operator companies Amen and Rewa to bring in around 1,600 tourists at the old SDF rate of USD 65.
Under the new SDF policy introduced last year tour operators were allowed to register tourists who had made bookings until 20th June 2022 under the old USD 65 rate with the last date of details to be shared being 28 July 2022.
Tour operators had to have booking confirmations, tourists names and passport numbers and proof of payment.
With this system it was announced that 14,429 tourists would be coming under the old SDF rate.
However, recently Amen tour company approached the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying that the company had proof of payment for 13 charter flights before 20th June 2022 but without the other details at the time. The PMO allowed it which means around 1,300 tourists coming at the old rate.
Another tour company Rewa approached the Department of Tourism with a similar request saying it had proof of payment of certain charter flights coming to 300 plus tourists before 20th June 2022 but without the other details requested at the time.
The Department forwarded the matter to the government which was also approved by the PMO.
Some tour operators questioned why only the two operators are being allowed to bring in guests at the old rate and not them.
Here the Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said that while he does not remember the names of the tour companies he does remember that the request had to do with the fact that the companies had proof of payment of charter flights and numbers of bookings before 20 June 2022.
He said he was told the names of individual tourists would not be there as they keep changing while the flight is booked but the number of travelers is fixed.
The PM said that Druk Air and the Tourism Department confirmed that the two companies are known to bring in regular charter flights during the tourist season.
He said in that case he told the Tourism Department they could facilitate the matter.
Lyonchhen said it is on the basis of some evidence and benefit of doubt and it is not so important to chase them down. He said a small caveat here is that the chartered flight may have been for 100 tourists but if it has 120 seats and 20 more join in at USD 65 rate then he told the Tourism Department not to object because while our expectation is that the 20 tourists should pay USD 200 but USD 65 is also a support to the economy. “I said there is no need to be too strict here,” said the PM.
The PM said that while other operators have not approached him his last sentence to the Tourism Department was not to give it where things are obvious but to give it where there is benefit of doubt.
The PM said he does not want the USD 65 Vs USD 200 to come to his office anymore. He said, “Those who are not eligible should not ask, should not get or be referred to us, but where there is doubt now there will not be any problem and I said (to the Tourism Department) based on this please give benefit of doubt to the operators.”