Although the National Assembly during its First Session of the Third Parliament endorsed entry and exit of regional tourists through the border towns of Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nanglam and Pangbang, the government said that it might need more time to do an in-depth study regarding the issue while presenting the status report during the Second Session of Third Parliament on 27 May.
Prime Minister (Dr) Lotay Tshering said, “During the last session when we discussed about opening of entry point from five border towns, we said that tourists coming to Bhutan should use tourists vehicle and tour guides, and we are working on it.”
Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen said that in order to introduce five entry points, firstly a tourism policy has to be in place. “We are waiting for the policy which is currently under formulation. For me, tourism policy is very important and for Bhutan high value and low volume has been the only brand for us.”
Lyonpo said that right after the establishment of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Bhutan was guided by a tourism policy of high value and low volume and this should be the policy in the future too. He said the ministry is trying to study whether the policy was really followed or not.
He said, “Just because the government has decided to open entry points in five border towns, we cannot open it without a thorough study or research. We would like to seek more time to do in-depth study regarding the issue because we want to make sure that this does not have any repercussion on us.”
The Home Minister said tourism brings both positive and negative impact. He said mass tourism poses a threat to the culture and tradition of the country. “With a mass amount of people comes a mass amount of rubbish. As more and more people visit a destination with a carefree attitude, the more our beautiful environment and destinations suffer. When tourists swarm a destination, a lot of destruction is caused and locals suffer from excessive noise, and famous landmarks become annoying to visit,” said Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen.
Border towns raised their own concerns on the issue including the lack of infrastructure in them to cope with large numbers of regional tourists.
The Samdrupjongkhar Thrompon Karma Sherab Thobgyal said, “Even if we open entry point in the border towns, not much tourists would visit places like eastern and southern Bhutan because most of the regional tourists prefer to visit places like Thimphu and Paro because of suitable climate and other reasons.”
The Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttam Kumar Rai said, “By default there is pressure on infrastructure as more number of tourists come in. When the volume of tourists is more, there should be more infrastructure.”
He said, “If government opens entry point, the government must, at the same time, improve or develop the infrastructure.”
Gelephu Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said, “When we talk about opening entry point, people assume that tourists will be permitted to come without any restrictions, but the government should restrict the number by having certain rules and regulations in place.”
An official from Thimphu Thromde shared concerns on where to accommodate the huge number of tourists that would flow in from the various border towns once the entry points are open.
He asked if the government has adequate funds or budget to provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities that will be required if a huge number of tourists come in.
This is especially considering that even a big and well funded Thimphu Thromde is struggling to cope with the large numbers of tourists coming into Thimphu with associated issues like drinking water, sewage, garbage and crowding problems.