In response to a question the Foreign Minister Lyonpo (Dr) Tandin Dorji who is also the Chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) said that there is 100 percent political will to preserve Bhutan’s high value and low impact tourism brand.
He said that he is working closely together with the Indian government and that there is concern at the level of both the Prime Ministers of Bhutan and India.
Lyonpo also said that work is also going on at the working-level counterparts with the Indian Embassy.
On Friday, the DG of TCB Dorji Dhradhul and his team met with the new Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj and other counterparts to discuss the various new measures that the TCB is coming up with to control mass tourism and also enhance the experience for regional visitors, especially from India.
A tweet on the meet was put out by the official Indian Embassy handle.
Getting the Indian government on board will be crucial as a lot of the measures will be taken up at the border and have to do with the regulation of the entry of people and vehicles, without necessarily stopping them but only regulating their flow.
The consultations are to not only convey Bhutan’s feelings on the issue but also ensure that there is no misunderstanding between the two friendly governments.
Already, Bhutan through various mechanism including track 2 and even track 1.5 has sensitized the Indian side on the growing challenge of mass regional tourism in Bhutan and its many impacts and the need to do something about it.
It has been leant that the Indian side is willing to cooperate though the specifics have not yet been taken up or agreed upon.
The Foreign Minister said that if there is no political will then the TCB and government would not have come with the measures in the first place.
The minister said that the cabinet has been discussing the issue and the Prime Minister himself has repeatedly asked him to work on this. The minister said that the issue is not about regional or tariff paying tourists but about ensuring high value and low impact tourism.
The minister said that there is concern that mass regional tourism is undermining Bhutan’s high value policy as Bhutan is being sold as a budget destination.
The minister said that TCB has already submitted a draft strategy to deal with mass tourism which has several options.
He said that a submission has also been made to the Prime Minister and there will be internal discussions before this strategy is taken to the cabinet.
Lyonpo said that even during the time of the former Prime Minister and during this PM’s time the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself said that Bhutan should control the numbers of tourists.
The minister said that there are options like the daily tariff for tourists, ensuring they stay in standardized hotels, coming through Bhutanese tour guides and others which are being discussed with the Indian government.