MoICE revokes Amen’s 1,300 tourists at old rate

Agent was found to be marketing the old rate to new tourists

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) in a letter dated on 29 April 2023 revoked the earlier permission given to Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks for the 1,300 tourists to be brought in via 13 chartered flights based on chartered flight bookings before 20 June 2022. 

The ministry said that a formal complaint had been received from the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) saying that Amen was marketing the old rates to new tourists. 

This was supported by formal complaints received by Foreign Travel Agents to ABTO and the Prime Minister’s Office. 

The ministry had asked Amen to give a clarification in response to the complaint but the company in its letter trying to explain its position advertently ended up admitting that that it marketed the old rates to new clients. 

The MoICE letter said that the agent’s letter to the ministry establishes that marketing for the 13 chartered flights was carried out post approval and on the old SDF rate. 

The ministry said it had already informed Amen of the consequences of failing to comply with the terms of approval and so the company was directed to cancel all the tour programs related to the approval given on 27 March 2023. 

On 11 April 2023 a Foreign Tour Operator (FTO) named Theresa Chen based in Singapore wrote an email directly to the PMO with copies to the MoICE secretary, ABTO, ACC, TCB DG and Foreign Ministry. 

The email pointed to the story done by this paper on 8 April where it was revealed that Amen and Rewa (300 tourists) would bring in 1,600 tourists at the old rate. It expressed surprise that this was allowed after the last date and also in a case where the confirmed dates, operation sectors and the names of tourists were not given. 

The FTO then pointed out that Amen has recently started selling and promoting Bhutan travel packages in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia on the old SDF, which is giving them an unfair advantage over other travel agents who are selling packages the new SDF. 

The FTO said that many if its confirmed clients cancelled with them and switched to Amen and so there is no level playing field. 

The FTO said this is negatively impacted their business and also led to a revenue loss for the Bhutanese government. 

The FTO said that with the adoption of the new tourism policy the tourism business is already at the verge of collapse and favoring selective tour operators may worsen the situation. 

The FTO requested the PMO to revisit and verify the authenticity of the matter in the interest of Bhutanese tour operators and FTOs who sell Bhutan and the nation as a whole. 

After the blanket approval granted on 27th March 2023 and the subsequent coverage by this paper and complaints of some FTOs the MoICE on 17th April wrote to Amen listing certain additional conditions. 

The letter said that as per the earlier approval granted to Amen they could bring three chartered flights each from Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia and two each from South Korea and Vietnam. 

The tourist traveling had to be a citizen of that country only. 

The ministry said that Amen cannot carry out any marketing or contact the Overseas Travel Agents (OTA) of other Bhutanese Tour Operators for the purpose of filling its chartered flight and disrupting the tourism business of other tour operators. This is because during the time of approval Amen had informed the government it already had a tentative guest list. 

The letter said that if there is any officially written complaint received from other Bhutanese Tour Operators with the authentication form their OTAs then the approval for the application shall be revoked. 

On 21 April Amen wrote to the ministry asking for consideration to include non-nationals on the flight from the country of origin. It also wanted to operate a chartered flight from Singapore. The ministry turned both down in a letter dated on 25 April and again reminded Amen that its permission will be revoked if there are written complaints and it is verified to be true. 

Ironically, despite the email of the FTOs and the written complaint by ABTO as well as some screen shot evidence there was no real hard evidence to show that Amen had engaged in such marketing, but it was Amen’s own clarification letter responding to the ABTO complaint letter that gave it away. 

In the 28th April letter to the MoICE the tour operator inadvertently ended up admitting that he had done marketing (which was not necessary) and that marketing had been done at the old rate. The letter was analyzed by MoICE’s legal team and this was used as the main evidence to cancel the earlier permission. 

A third company called Happiness Kingdom had also been granted permission to bring in 12 chartered flights of 1500 at the old rate, but this company finished its tours in December and January. 

An MoICE official said that Amen on 27th April paid the new SDF rate for two chartered flights that were brought in on 29th April. 

However, the various allegations, complaints and revocation of Amen’s earlier approval brings light to the fact that proper due diligence was not done on Amen’s claims that it was bringing in older tourists via already booked charter flights.

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