Domestic tourism plan also being drawn up
The Tourism Industry and the tourism season is dead for the entire 2020, but there is some hope in 2021 as the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is working on and proposing the concept of ‘Bubble Tourism’.
A TCB official, on the condition of anonymity, said that they have put up a concept of ‘bubble tourism’ to the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and it has two options.
The first option is with quarantine. In this option the TCB has proposed quarantine period of 3 days, 7 days or 14 days.
So if the government goes for the 3-day quarantine plan then the tourist even before coming to Bhutan will have to show a COVID-19 test certificate taken within 72 hours before the flight.
From the airport they will be taken to identified hotels and kept in quarantine for 3 days after which they will be tested and if they are negative then there will be a quarantine mode itinerary for them that will take them in the same vehicles with the same tour guides to some pre-identified places where there is no contact with the public. This also includes pre-identified restaurants.
The quarantine place can either be a hotel identified by the government or a major resort with a campus. In the case of the latter the tourists can move around the hotel campus for the three days but not outside it.
During the 3-day quarantine the TCB is also proposing activities like wellness, meditation and retreat.
So as tourists do the itinerary and once they complete 14 days there will be another test and once they test negative then they will be allowed to move more freely with a normal itinerary.
The second option is without quarantine and here the tourists after doing a test will go on special trekking program and routes where it will be made sure they do not come into contact with locals. Here it could be the Druk Path or the Snowman’s Trek.
The non-quarantine option could also be a 10-day retreat program.
The TCB official said that the details have to be worked out with hotels, restaurants, tour operators and guides as it is they who will have to sell these packages overseas if and when they are approved.
There, however, has been a delay with the lockdown where the TAG has been very busy with the new cases coming up and so it has not been able to evaluate the TCB proposal or get back to it.
The TCB official said that the early informal feed back from tour operators is that there will not be many takers as no tourist will want to stay in quarantine, but then again getting some tourists will be better than nothing and at least it will help the tourism industry to some extent and earn foreign exchange for the government.
The TCB alternately is also coming up with a domestic tourism plan which can be promoted and implemented right away.
The TCB official said that people are already going for trekking within Bhutan. The TCB is also setting up a new East to West trail which can first be tried for the domestic tourists.
TCB will also encourage government and private offices to hold meetings, retreats and seminars in other Dzongkhags to give them some business.
The TCB has also come up with a new domestic package called Druk Neykor where people can visit local places of pilgrimage within Bhutan.
The option of Rinpoches’ or other Lams holding certain discourses in parts of the country is also being looked at.
In terms of the time the TCB official said that though the upcoming peak tourist season is from September to November the proposal would probably only be ready by the end of the year and implementation could happen from March next year.
The bubble tourism plan, however, may change for the better if an effective vaccine comes into play and in that case the official said the situation will almost come back to normal.
The official said the government and the TCB Chairman Lyonpo Tandi Dorji were very supportive of the plan.
However, the catch here is that everything will be up in the air if there are long lockdowns in the future.
One factor in Bhutan’s advantage will be how it does not have a lot of cases and has managed COVID-19 much better than most popular tourist destinations.
The TCB is expected to leverage and use this in its promotion of Bhutan as a destination.
The TCB with support from UNDP has hired an international communication expert who will help TCB to promote that angle.
However, all of the above is still at a draft stage and is yet to be approved by the MoH or the government.
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