Govt ready to provide subsidies for tourism marketing but not willing to change SDF related policies

A slew of recommendations and reports have been submitted to the government on increasing tourist numbers from both the Ministry of Industry Commerce and Employment and other stakeholders.

A senior official, on the condition of anonymity said, the government will study all the recommendations carefully but is unlikely to arbitrarily change policies as too much of this has already happened and only where absolutely necessary they will change policies.

The main focus is in marketing without touching too many things.

The official said, all efforts would first be made to market Bhutan as an exclusive and attractive tourist destination and then they will look at other measures.

The senior official said, “Unless we market properly and thoroughly, tinkering with policies is not going to be the solution. We want to be very careful as it is confusing our tour operators, travel agents and tourists themselves.”

On the plight of hotels in border towns the official said they have been asked to first make use of the 24-hours SDF free incentive but even with the 24 hours SDF free they are not able to compete.

The official said that if on first night they are fully booked and second night the tourist goes Jaigaon then they can understand but they are already enjoying one night without SDF and are still empty. The official asked how increasing the SDF free duration is going to add to it.

“Number one let us not tinker with SDF and policies and number two lets us focus on marketing,” said the official.

Hoteliers in the border have been asked to give proposals to the government whereby they can go to India to market to tourists directly and the government will subsidize the marketing.

The official said the problem is the lack of marketing and not the SDF saying that Jaigaon is marketing and that is why tourists are staying there, even if it is for one night.

The official asked why a tourist coming to Bhutan is spending one night in Jaigaon and comes up to Thimphu when SDF is free in Phuentsholing for a night.

The official said they are spending the night in Jaigaon because it is the Jaigaon tour operators and hoteliers that are marketing to theses tourists and not Bhutanese.

“So, playing with SDF is not going to help and what is going to help is marketing which is the hard work and we have to put in the hard work,” said the official.

When asked how numbers can be increased in the east the senior official said, “Again you market. Right now, you are starting from a very low base. You can’t expect to have the same number of tourists as the other places but you can target to double, triple and quadruple.

Once you target then you implement your marketing plan and so if you don’t market, other policy initiatives will have very limited impact.”

The official said that in the east, the government has told the hoteliers and tour operators to invite tour operators who are based in Thimphu to the east and talk to them and encourage them to make tour programs.

If need be they will be subsidized.

“People from the east, including Dzongdas, should visit Thimphu and promote their areas and Dzongkhags with the tour operators here.”

The government has also given instructions to the Department of Tourism to make special packages for the east.

They will also be encouraged to go to Guwahati and have special programs there and the government will support and monetary support too.

The senior official said if Bhutan is getting this many tourists with literally zero marketing then with a little marketing or targeted marketing how much can Bhutan get and how many tourists are going to come.

The senior official said the concern is not that we won’t get enough but that we will hit our 300,000 target soon when the carrying capacity is limited.

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