Meanwhile, TCB is hopeful that by October 2021 the country will be able to begin receiving visitors only if the COVID situation improves
The reopening of tourism in the country is a popular concern, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise in neighboring countries, the chances of this happening are minimal for now.
According to the Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) Dorji Dhradhul, while the tourism sector is planning for a re-start and re-opening, the decision on when and how to do it, quarantine time, vaccine passport, and so on, will be made at the national level, taking into account the situation of all sectors and the population.
He said that reopening or restart is heavily influenced by the situation in the neighboring nations, territories, and the rest of the world.
He said that if the COVID-19 situation improves, TCB is hopeful that by October the country will be able to begin receiving visitors.
However, he also said that at this moment the top concern without a doubt is the safety and good health of the people and rightly so.
“Allowing international travel, including inbound visitors, could only be decided after taking into account all relevant factors, including the regional and global situation. If I may say so, at this point in time, the Tsa Wa Sum, i.e. the Crown, the Nation, and the Citizen, has made health a top priority. After all, “Health is Wealth,” and if one’s health is in good shape, everything else will take care of itself,” he said.
He said, “I accept that any prediction is just a guess. We have, however, established some forecasts for planning purposes. Assuming that tourists begin arriving in September/October 2021, we will have only 10% to 20% of 2019 tourists in this year (2021), 40% of 2019 in 2022, 60% of 2019 in 2023, 80% of 2019 in 2024, and only 100% of 2019 in 2025.”
He added that everyone should be prepared for any surprises, given COVID 19’s highly unpredictable existence.
Vaccination is voluntary, but everyone employed in the tourism industry is required to be vaccinated says the TCB director general.
“While the general public has the option of getting vaccinated or not, vaccination is needed in the tourism industry,” he said.
A total of 1,573 tourism personnel were working as part of the Tourism Economic Contingency Plan’s various projects (TECP). Infrastructure and product creation, training and re-skilling, survey and research, and waste management programs received a total budget of Nu 214 million.
He said that although TCB began working on domestic tourism shortly before COVID 19, they were unaware of its significance.
“People began to travel for pilgrimages, hiking, and trekking, which contributed to the economy in a small way. Furthermore, the first-ever Domestic and Outbound Tourism Survey for 2019 was conducted in 2020, and it found that domestic travel contributes significantly to the economy,” he said, adding that one thing they are learning from COVID 19 is the value and potential of domestic tourism. By putting in place guidelines and tourism goods, TCB have already begun to work on promoting and developing domestic tourism.
He said the COVID 19 provides two lessons. “To begin with, year-round local or in-country food production is essential for food security, particularly in such unusual times, and we know this pandemic will not be the last, so we must improve local food production,” he said.
Secondly, he said we must refocus our attention on niche products such as organic, superfoods, and indigenous products, as Bhutan will never be a volume player for obvious reasons.
“As a result, I believe that in agriculture the tourism’s policy High-Value Low Volume approach will make sense in terms of production and marketing,” he said.
He added that TCB has begun discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ on developing agro-tourism as one of the potential products post-COVID 19.