Old Wine in New bottle

The only economic sector where we can make a quick and impactful recovery is tourism, and while there has been improvement in the numbers this year compared to last year, there is still a long way to go.

If Bhutan had time on its side we can wait, but we do not have time with large numbers still leaving the country, fast draining foreign reserves and loan deferments for hotels coming to an end by 30 June this year.

In that sense, the reforms recommended by the Tourism Committee to the government is disappointing as most of the measures are old wine in a new bottle.

There is nothing there that will really increase the numbers in a short time or address the core issues.

This is disappointing as the new government’s election manifesto pledges for tourism were much more ambitious.

There are some who have recommended that the Rs 1,200 per day SDF be lifted for Indian tourists. This is not a good idea as Bhutan has to avoid mass tourism.

However, what really adds cost is the requirement for mandatory guides and health insurance which should be relooked at.

The vehicle charges of Nu 4,000 per day for cars and Nu 3,500 for bikes could also be considered for a discount.

Apart from the money the processing of the documents at the border still takes too much time and there are too much documentary requirements.

As a popular Indian biker visiting Bhutan commented in a video that feels he has come more to collect documents.

The border towns are all suffering and dry since COVID. Many tourists and visitors to Bhutan prefer staying in Jaigaon than in Phuentsholing due to the SDF.

The only business edge that Phuentsholing had over Jaigaon was better hotels and ambience but even that edge has been lost.

Common sense now dictates that the border towns should all be given SDF exemptions if their economies are to be revived and if they are to have any chance competing with towns across the border.

A good move last year was to reduce the SDF from USD 200 to USD 100. While the USD 100 is kept untouched for now the earlier schemes of 50% discount after 9 nights and 100% discount after 15 nights should be revived along with the pac and flight discounts for large groups to improve the numbers and duration of stay. This is better than any marketing. More discounts should be considered if the numbers do not improve enough.

The committee ideas are important to improve service and the experience, but those will not increase the numbers and duration which is the need of the hour.

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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