The ever increasing number of regional tourists, was discussed in the National Assembly.
Member of Parliament of Chhumig Ura, Tshewang Jurmi, asked the Economic Affairs Minister for an update on the number of regional tourist arrival in the country as of now, and also if regional tourism is governed by the same mechanism of tourism policy and EDP.
He further said that the country is flooded with regional tourists who come to the country bringing their own vehicles, and with no guides or hotel bookings being made.
It was also discussed that increasing waste and litter problems are noticed in a few of the landmarks across the country due to the tourists, that directly threaten the pristine environment.
And in response to the questions, Economic Affairs Minister, Lekey Dorji, said that going by the record maintained by the immigration office, the number of regional tourists visiting the country is increasing each year.
Lyonpo shared that starting 2011, the government has started keeping record of both the international tourists and regional tourists visiting the county each year.
As per the records in 2011, Bhutan received 47,610 international tourists and 16,418 regional tourists. Similarly, in 2012 about 54,685 international tourists and 50,122 regional tourists visited Bhutan. The figures went up 2014, with about 68,801 international tourists and 65,395 regional tourists.
However, last year, the international tourists visiting the country dropped to 57,537 and the regional tourist visiting the country has increased to 93,584 which indicates that the regional tourist numbers has increased by two-folds as compared to the previous years.
Lyonpo said that in order maintain the high value, low impact modus operandi, few stakeholders such as Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) Royal Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), Immigration are now engaged in drafting different provision that is strictly for the regional tourists entering in the country from four entry points.
“With such measures in place, current issues pertaining to numbers and environment pollution shall resolve,” the Minister said.
MP Nubi-Tangsibji, Nidup Zangpo, raised a similar concern saying that with the increase in regional tourists, the high value, low impact, policy appears to have been changed to “high volume, low value.”
“Since the regional tourist do not have to pay the fixed daily tariff and are even allowed to bring their own vehicles,” MP Nidup Zangpo said.
According to him with such a trend brings an increased risk to the preservation of culture and tradition, besides the increased pollution and littering. He asked for the government’s view on the matter, and the necessary steps being taken to regulate the number of tourists effectively.
Following the questions, Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said that the government will introduce an online system where an individual tourist must obtain a road permit before entering Bhutan.
Lyonpo said that each tourist must route through a Bhutanese tour operator who will provide a local guide, travel itinerary, vehicle and arrange hotel.
Starting next year, Lyonpo said that the regional tourist’s entry in lhakhangs, dzongs and other important places shall be restricted if they are found visiting without a local guide.
Further Lyonpo said that their details, including the hotels they stay shall be strictly monitored by the RBP.