99 percent of tourist guides say they are happy with the current tariff system, and therefore, they will not support the move towards tariff liberalization. However, they want changes in the DSA with a raise in minimum benchmark excluding professional fees.
More than 100 guides attended a meeting that was organized by the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB) to discuss on the National Council’s recommendations on tariff liberalization, DSA and professional fees, standardization, unregulated regional tourist arrivals and training for guides.
The guides voiced their concerns on the negative impact of the tariff liberalization. Former director, GAB, Sangay Phuba said that he is skeptical of the tariff liberalization. He said if the tariff is liberalized, every tourist will float in and it will have negative impact to the country. The guides said that there should be local guides accompanying the regional tourists.
Chairman, GAB, Garab Dorji said, “My personal perspective is that it is now time to bring some changes in tourism industry- to bring competition in the market.”
He said that around 12,000 groups of tourists visited the country last year and there are around 2,900 tour guides. Therefore, on average, each guide serves four groups and the guides are employed for only one month.
“If the issue was about undercutting, the government gets its taxes and royalty,” said Garab Dorji, adding that technically there is no undercutting of the tariff as the amount is directly deposited with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).
Guides are paid around Nu 800 – 1,500 per day during peak season while they are paid Nu 500 -1,000 in the lean season. During the meeting, the guides agreed to have a minimum benchmark of Nu 1000 per day so they can hold on to a gainful employment and cover their food and accommodation expenses.
However, some guides are paid less DSA, whereas some of the tour operators are kind enough to pay additional amount along with the DSA. The guides also proposed to GAB on the possibility of food and accommodation to be provided to them by the tour operators.
A senior guide, Norbu Wangchuk, is for the tariff liberalization and said that changes need to be in place to bring about positive impact. “The overseas travel agents sell Bhutan for USD 500- 600, but the money does not enter into the country’s economy,” he added.
He also said that if the tariff is liberalized then the number of tourist visiting will increase and regional tourists would balance the dollar-paying tourist.
“And with the increase in number of tourists, the demand for the guides will also increase and GAB could take a lead role in categorizing the guides based on experience and performance,” he said.
Majority of the guides said the tariff liberalization would benefit only a few people, hotel and restaurants owners. “Overall what makes Bhutan special is its unique culture, largely not westernized, and the huge amount of people that will come to Bhutan will do the same damage seen in other parts of the world,” the guides stated.
The guides unanimously decided that if the National Council’s recommendation on tariff liberalization comes through then the tourists should route their visit through tour operators and the tour operators should use the service of the guides.