Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) of the National Council presented its report on review of tourism policy and strategies on November 19.
The review was called for after many MPs raised the need for it during the 10th Session of the National Council.
The report submitted by EAC calls for an urgent need of a comprehensive tourism policy with focus on yield and quality rather than quantity, with benefits spread to other parts of Bhutan, enforcement of proper pricing mechanism, regulation of regional tourism, creation of gainful employment and fair reporting of tourism sector earnings.
Chairperson of EAC, NC member Pema Tenzin said the report is an outcome of discussions, study of the documents and analysis of the committee after carrying out an extensive review on the rationale, guiding policy, key institutions and stakeholders, tourism sectors, situational analysis, emerging issues, concerns, observations and recommendations. The committee followed the provisions in Article 10.2 and 11.2 of the Constitution and the rules and regulation of the National Council Article 7 and 11 while working on the review.
“The house reviews such policies if it benefits government for the socio-economic development of the nation,” said the EAC Chairman. He pointed out that the income generation from the tourism industry comes next to the hydropower project income.
Tourism in Bhutan started in 1974 with the objective to generate income and to increase the living standard of the people in Bhutan. During the early days, all the lodges, attendants and necessary transportation arrangements were made by the government and government services. Therefore, the government fixed the tariff at USD 150 per day.
Dagana National Councillor pointed out that the tariff was revised in 2012 from USD 200 to USD 250 for the peak season and USD 165 to USD 200 for the lean seasons with a royalty of USD 65 to the government.
In the 1974 only 283 tourists visited Bhutan and the tourist arrival in the country stands at 133,480 as of 2014 and generated an income of Nu 73 mn. Till now tourism sector has provide employment to 28,000 people.
“Now we will focus on what new things that we can explore and what new ideas can add upon the policies that already exists,” EAC Chairman added.
According to EAC, after seeing the flaws and need in reviewing tourism policies, the business association has met 3-4 times along with the tourism agencies.
One of the good policies of the tourism policy has been ‘High value and low volume’ which the house supports. “ But when it comes to applying it, most of the business agent under Association of the Bhutan Travel Agent (ABTO) focuses more on international tourist than on regional tourist,” EAC points out.
Moreover, EAC, through proper research, found that the international tourists are guided by certified guides and follow proper disciplines, whereas the regional tourists visit Bhutan on their own and are found visiting dzongs, lhakhangs and temples in improper dress.
The report stated that the tourist arrival in eastern and southern Bhutan are very less, although the government pledges to assure 20 percent of tourists visit eastern Bhutan, but only 3.6 percent tourists have visited partial parts of eastern Bhutan as of 2014.
National Council MP from Samdrupjongkhar pressed on the need of increasing tourism in Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and Sarpang. National Council MP from Pemagatshel raised concerns over the need of basic civic amenities, promotion of local products and historical places such as Yonglagonpa and opening trek routes to the tourism.