The government has come up with the much delayed and anticipated regional tourism policy and guidelines.
The government here deserves kudos for not only coming up with the regulations in the first place but also recommending bold measures like number caps, SDF fee for regional tourists, environment fee for vehicles, compulsory guides etc.
It is important to remember here that Bhutan is not adopting a discriminatory or different policy for regional tourists but it is merely bringing regional tourists at par with international tariff paying tourists.
Regional tourists are important for Bhutan’s tourism sector and are welcome here but the lack of a coherent policy and regulation for them has led to two main issues.
The first is that they do not get the best services and experience as they do not come through the proper tourism system. Everything from hotel rooms to transport to sightseeing is uncertain and up in the air and so it hampers their experience.
Without proper guides they are not conversant with the local geography and culture and this can lead to both accidents and also misunderstanding with the local populace.
The second issue is that the lack of a well regulated system has meant that large and unsustainable numbers come into Bhutan and this leads to its own set of problems in terms of the impact of over tourism on various aspects like environment, culture, infrastructure etc.
Here again, the regional tourist is most affected as they feel crowded out.
It is ironic that the most number of suggestions to regulate regional tourism has come from the regional tourists themselves.
It currently appears that the largest source of regional tourists India is showing some understanding on the situation in the informal talks on the issue.
Once Bhutan implements the regulations with cooperation from India then it will be a win-win with tourists from India getting a great experience and it will also genuinely strengthen people to people ties as regulated regional tourism makes a positive impact on Bhutanese livelihood and lives.
The keystone of successful business is cooperation. Friction retards progress.
James Cash Penney