Tourism Council of Bhutan

Proposal on reducing quarantine duration for tourists to 7 days by December and 3 days by January: TCB DG

TCB has stopped tourism for now until it can come up with Tourist Standard Quarantine Hotels

On Tuesday 26th October, more than 50 tour operators attended a meeting with Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), where they discussed about the opening of tourism in the country.

Karma, a tour operator, asked TCB to clarify the confusion regarding the opening of tourism in the country and the government’s views on it.

He stated that when countries such as India, Singapore, Bangkok, Nepal, and many others are opening up the door for tourists with the COVID protocol in place, stakeholders would like to request the TCB to work with the government to see if there can be some certainty as to when tourism might reopen.

“Everyone is asking us the same question, and we are only saying first January next year, which is also uncertain because our government is not saying anything. If something is said from the top, we can go out and talk with confidence, whereas right now, no matter how much marketing we do, how much correspondence we do, whatever we do, it is very difficult to confirm anything. I’m sure the cabinet and government are talking about it, but it’s like a secret because we’re not hearing anything,” he said.

He added that as long as the proper protocols are in place, just like other countries that are far worse off than Bhutan, the country should work on it.

Director General of the TCB, Dorji Dhradhul said, “We know for some time to come, at least  in Bhutan,  the decision is unless there is a drastic change in situation in COVID at least by the end of this year some form of quarantine will be there and the proposed plan as for now is maybe by December it can be reduced to seven days and then maybe in January it will come to  three days, and then we may be do away with it and that is the timeline, and we are working on it and trying to open Bhutan with a reduced number of quarantine days of minimum of three to seven days from early 2022,” he said.

This proposal from the TCB to reduce the quarantine period for tourists has been put upto the National COVID-19 Taskforce.

TCB is currently working on a Tourist Standard Quarantine Facility  for tourists.

TCB is preparing to identify a tourist quality hotel in Paro and a couple of tourist standard hotels in Thimphu to serve as quarantine facilities for tourists who wish to visit the country despite the quarantine.

They’re also prepping all of the hotels, and the team is already on the ground.

“Even if we brought tourists, there would be no hotel since none of the high-end hotels are ready to open without a minimum number of tourists.  So that’s why we are not entertaining and having said that we have been asked to put a proposal and we will study and put up and then proceed,” he said.

The DG said the government once stated that tourists are welcome, but the country is no longer entertaining tourists.

He stated that in September 2020, there was a communication from the National COVID-19 Taskforce stating that foreigners are welcome to the country provided they undergo this 21-day quarantine and TCB planned accordingly. He acknowledged the tourism sector was impatient from the start, which is understandable.

“The majority of you are looking at one side, but we are in a very critical situation and we have to look at both sides. On one side is our private stakeholders and on one side is the long term vision, however, I am not saying that you are not concerned about the long term vision of the country, definitely you will be, but if you want to prioritize as an entrepreneur or businessman you will prioritize your immediate revenue and benefits and the long term vision will be second. As Bhutanese citizens, each and every Bhutanese citizen will be committed to our country’s long-term goals of sustainability. However, when it comes to the immediate, the business comes first. As a result, the government has been under pressure to reopen as soon as possible, not only from the tourism sector but also from other business sectors, as you are all aware,” he said.

He asked that if the country opens up to tourism tomorrow, will that be a good decision for the country in the long run?

“In April, the Council said Bhutan will open tourism by July 5th, at least giving our stakeholders two months notice to prepare, but we couldn’t open because of the COVID situation. We, too, want to open as soon as possible, but if you really analyze the situation, I don’t think it’s possible for the country to open earlier. Those countries that recently opened, are already revisiting their decisions. So, no matter what we did, looking back we couldn’t have opened,” he explained.

 The DG added, “We have to think as one and if the government had not made this prudent calculated decision and we had opened up, we could have failed. We still don’t know the disease.”

On Bhutan’s first tourist the TCB DG said they investigated who this tourist was and discovered that she was one of the last tourists to leave the country prior to COVID 19.

He said she is a real tourist and not sponsored by the government as some speculated and since she wanted to come for wellness, wellbeing and sound meditation the TCB put the proposal to the National Taskforce who agreed.

He said her original itinerary was that after 21 days of quarantine, and after one week in Thimphu, there is an itinerary for going to the rest of the country.

But TCB negotiated with the itinerary and she stayed in Thimphu until the end of October, but on Tuesday she left for Trongsa and they had to revise the itinerary because the situation had improved slightly, so they let her go and she will continue with her tour.

He said that based on her experience, the quarantine service was not up to the mark especially when they are talking about high value low volume tourism, Bhutan as an exclusive destination, and the 50-year long hard earned Brand Bhutan about Bhutan being a special place.

“In light of this, we have learned not only from her, but also from other perspectives. The quarantine service they have provided is unsatisfactory and even some Bhutanese have complained about it. If Bhutanese are complaining about the quarantine service, and since there is no special quarantine service for tourists, we didn’t want to take the risk just for the sake of one or two tourists,” he said, adding that after that, they received one proposal, put it on hold, and then cancelled it based on the experience.

He stated that tourism is put on hold for now as the quarantine service is not ready, and secondly tourists have to stay in quarantine and then have a restrictive itinerary.

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