The government is studying the possibility of issuing route permits online as a means to make it more convenient for regional tourists visiting Bhutan.
This response came up to a query by the Dremetse-Ngatsang MP to the home minister on the huge backlog of route permit applications at the immigration check post in Phuentsholing which had caused inconvenience and resentment among regional visitors.
Home minister Dawa Gyeltshen said the current Phuentsholing immigration office was limited in space and was delivering permits to about 1,200 applicants on daily. “The office is functioning with limited space service windows has been increased to 12 from four on the first floor and another 15 service windows are on second floor,” he said.
In 2011 Bhutan received 47,610 international tourist and 16,418 regional tourists. By 2014 this had increased to 68,801 international tourists and 65,395 regional tourists. Last year international tourists had dropped to 57,537 and regional tourists increased.
The Home minister said the government cannot limit regional tourists because of the excellent relations it shares with its neighbors, particularly India.
The Phuntsholing MP said immigration officials overloaded are short of manpower. He said online permits will save time of both tourists and immigration officials and also generate employment for youths.
Economic Affairs minister Lekey Dorji said the government introduced an online route permit system on November 11. This is monitored by the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators. He also said that the immigration office in Phuentsholing would be revitalized to meet the increasing service demand and emphasis will be put on online permits.
Lyonpo said as an interim measure, the route permit for tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives is being issued online and also from the Immigration office at Phuntsholing.
“The government will study up to three months on the efficiency of issuing the route permit through online, we plan to go fully online if it proves efficient,” he added.
In the summer session the house also discussed regulating regional tourism. Starting next year entry to Lhakhang, dzongs and other important places will be restricted if regional tourists are found visiting without a local guide.
Regional tourists coming by flight will have to comply with the international tourism policy.