According to the Executive Director of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and the chair of Tourism Technical Advisory Group, Sonam Dorji, tourists are not willing to visit Bhutan due to the mandatory quarantine period imposed on all visitors coming from abroad.
For many of the tourists, travelling to Bhutan is not easy due to the restricted or limited flight schedules from their countries, which also requires many airport transfers. The tourists do not want to spend the majority of their holiday time in quarantine.
Although many tourists are inquiring about visiting Bhutan, however, all the bookings have been postponed. The tourists are hopeful of a better travel scenario with the flight schedules, internationally and regionally, and the easing of quarantine requirements.
Sonam Dorji also questioned on the need for quarantine if tourists can produce their COVID-19 vaccine doses certificates, and also test negative on the RT-PCR.
He said that if quarantine is needed, then the country needs to develop modalities for contained areas, not just the confined room, but also confined hotels or premises in order to have the freedom to walk and also take part in certain activities, such as spiritual lessons, yoga, etc.
“Another point is that if our COVID-19 National Task Force could also come up with Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and guideline separately for tourist, since the tourists are subjected to the tariff,” he said.
During the quarantine time, the tourist are levied SDF, but the Minimum Daily Package Rate of USD 250 is charged only after the quarantine period is over.
“It is not a question of charging SDF, but that the tourist has limited holidays,” he said.
Decreasing the quarantine period to two weeks will barely have any impact on restarting tourism since the COVID-19 situation is worst in the key gateways, Bangkok, India and Singapore, he added.
“It’s not about quarantine period, but gateways for us. Even if it’s for a week or two, I think certain protocols for tourists should be developed. Like, the change in bed sheets, towels and food choices because tourist pay, and the fact that it is a system of payments the quarantine facility should be like in Bangkok, where efforts are taken to ensure that protocols for tourists are put in place for using quarantine facilities. These things must, thus, be sorted out,” he said.
He added that communication lines with airline operators are important since one of the current problems faced is connecting to the transfer desks connecting airports.
“Like Bangkok, Singapore or Delhi, a majority of the transfer desks are being removed at the airport at the present time. Issues like how our airline support personnel at these airports make it simple for tourist arrivals to the country should be sorted out,” he added.
Meanwhile, for formal reopening, the Tourism Technical Advisory Group has worked on reopening guidelines and SOP, which has been submitted to the Health TAG for further directives.
“More or less, whether it is international or national, the government stance is the same. Tourism TAG has established a different SOP and recommendations to address all these concerns. But I expect that the quarantine procedures or national guidelines, in particular, will improve the situation and will help us to restart the industry,” Sonam Dorji said, adding that it is too late this year to work on this, but they are hoping that the situation will be better next year.
The three-week required quarantine period for all inbound passengers, regardless of vaccination status and place of origin, was reduced to two weeks.
Ministry of Health has been instructed to re-design and decide the testing approach to heightened health surveillance during the two weeks in the quarantine. The monitoring team was also encouraged to determine the test pattern, and assist the release of individuals who finished quarantine for two weeks, if they are qualified.