Mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers likely to be removed in next 2 to 3 months

According to the Chair of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, the government is discussing about removing quarantine requirements for inbound travelers, and discussing on the formal opening of tourism.

Lyonpo said that the government is discussing removing the quarantine requirement entirely for the official opening of tourism, and they anticipate that it would take two to three months for hoteliers and others to prepare.

“Repair and maintenance are required for everybody, protocol is needed in place, and reforms have been discussed, which are quite exciting,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that the government cannot say that tourism will open tomorrow because the hotels are currently being utilized as quarantine, and the government has not made any advanced announcement. The National COVID-19 Taskforce will provide recommendations.

“Tourists will most likely be permitted in during the fall season. Everything is now being discussed. We must also notify the tourism industry ahead of time. We’ve begun to engage, and India’s External Affairs Minister is also visiting the nation, which is being arranged in bubble mode. We have so many important visits scheduled that we need to lift the quarantine requirement to make them possible. However, we are not yet ready to open at the moment since COVID-19 cases are on the rise. We will formally open tourism only once the situation has stabilized,” Lyonpo said.

On the opening of the border, Lyonpo highlighted that the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing and the country has not reached to a down ward trend instead it is going up.

“Those will be decided only once we know that the COVID-19 positive case is decreasing, thus we must continue to guard till then. We used to protect our own population; now we have to protect the visitors who are coming in. Many countries have advised against visiting Bhutan due to the rising number of cases,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that there are many reforms and everything will be announced together.   “We will present the reform to the cabinet and the council when it is complete, and we will discuss it,” Lyonpo added.

Few weeks ago the tourism sector proposed to the government for a test and go scheme with one-night quarantine requirement.

The tourism sector has also proposed to the government to have Phase-wise timeline for relaxation and re-opening of tourism and to help the industry plan accordingly.

On 2 April, after more than two years, the country welcomed 32 international tourists.

According to the Chairman of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB), Sonam Wangchuk, it is obviously an encouraging indicator that, despite the quarantine requirements, people are still exhibiting interest in coming to see what happens to be one of the most anticipated places that everyone wants to visit.

However, he said that in order for hotels and the economy to recover, the country needs numbers of tourists.

“It is good to be optimistic, but we must work even more to ensure that numbers increase on a regular basis. I believe it is high time that we make our tourism strategy stronger for the way forward,” he said.

He said that they don’t want to rush things, but they also don’t want to be laid back. “I believe that the fall season should be the most appropriate season for which we should all plan. The government should now do what they have already been doing; this is the time for the government to get hotels, tour operators, and airlines on board to discuss the way forward. Airlines because we need to schedule time, hotels because we are all on the ground and ready, but we still need to be prepared. We are aware that the majority of the staff has been doing something or the other as a result of the pandemic, and they must all be summoned back and undergo adequate training. We will miss the bus if we do not plan for the fall season, which begins in September,” he said.

 “Planning of tourism requires coming back to the very normal life of 2019, because you don’t want to go to a country where you can enter but cannot go anywhere and there are no festivals or social activities. They, too, desire the same festivals and cultural necessities that we do,” he said.

He said they are requesting the financial institutes to defer loans and reduce EMI and they can only stop requesting once there is an indication and confidence that tourism will bounce back.

Executive Director of Association of Bhutan Tour Operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji said that the industry is ready but, it appears that Tourism Council of Bhutan is not ready.

He said that tour operators are getting a lot of inquiries.

“We don’t know how to plan; we have no idea what the phases would entail. As a result, the industry is failing to plan for and organize ourselves into this new normal. The Prime Minister also announced that there won’t be any further lockdowns, but they haven’t said what will happen next. We must know how we will proceed in the following phases. What type of relaxation will we encounter? We are bewildered due to the fact that nothing is coming,” he said.

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