Silver lining for tourism sector amidst COVID-19

At the Meet-the-Press session held yesterday, the Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji highlighted the areas that can be enhanced in the tourism sector during the COVID-19 period.

He said that even before COVID-19 pandemic, the policy change recommended in the

Tourism Levy Exemption (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan during the National Assembly session was to enhance and regulate the sector better in accordance to the ‘low volume high value’ impact philosophy that the sector aims at.

Lyonpo said, “We are looking to use this time to do works in the beautification of the existing tourism infrastructures and areas, and a lot of other opportunity lie ahead on these grounds.”

He said that the COVID-19 situation has led the government to further think about back up plans in regard to workers in the hotel industry, tourism industry and other directly affected industries in the future. Adding to it, he said that policies for the future guests should be loosened up, pointing out to the previous practices which led to long complicated procedural routes for the travelers. He said that previously foreign tourists who had been coming to the country had to make plans for as long as a year.

“Tourists only come to our country for mostly two purposes; either for trekking or for visiting dzongs,” he added. He recommended the need for product/brand diversification for an even more unique experience that the tourists would not be able to get in other country, which he said that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), under the management of Director General (DG) Dorji Dhradhul, is currently working on. Different works are being planned and some are already being implemented for guides, hotel personnel and other affected industry workers, said the Foreign Minister.

TCB DG added that efforts are being made for the betterment of the tourism sector even before the COVID-19 phase, in line with high value and low volume goal. But in the last decade, there were certain barricades to effectiveness in policies. He added that the work to policy enhancement has been completed.

He said that the recent times are a chance to make the policies even better as there have been additional realizations, in terms of what could have been done better. He highlighted that during the initial COVID-19 phase, there were about 2,000 tourists in the country. All of them left Bhutan by March.

TCB has formed small groups in order to deliver specialization in the post-COVID-19 phase, which would be in terms of introducing more wellness and wellbeing programs, spiritualism and meditation, and nature-based experiences and trekking, some of which were already there but needed enhancement.

“Tourism is one of the most employing industries in Bhutan, but personally, I feel that people should not all look towards the tourism sector for jobs. This is one of the lessons to learn from COVID-19, looking at how the sector has had a major impact,” he concluded.

Foreign Minister,”Whenever we speak of tourists, we only think about outsiders but even those countrymen and women who are looking to go on excursions and explore other dzongkhags can go for a Druk-nyekor, and we are also looking into that. Currently, we are looking to explore such possibilities in Gelephug and Phuentsholing.”

He added, “Even for handicrafts, until now we have been producing only Bangchungs and other items, but even in that regard, we are coming up with plans to have innovative product diversifications. Even though COVID-19 is a great risk factor, we can be resilient about it.”

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