In a time when the travel industry should be gearing up for a comeback, tour operators across the nation find themselves mired in uncertainty and doubt.
As the anticipated travel season approaches, a widespread feeling of negativity is present throughout the industry, with challenges ranging from the border tour operators and the changes in the Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) not doing enough.
Tsheten Chophel, who runs Bhutan Travel Guru, mentioned that the tour bookings have gone down by around 60 percent since reopening. In the past, the company used to receive bookings months in advance, especially during the peak tourism season, but this time, they haven’t received many bookings.
He also noted that the recent SDF incentives haven’t had a significant impact, unlike the massive response before the pandemic.
Most of his customers are Americans and Europeans, with very few coming from Southeast Asia.
Another tour operator explained that the new SDF incentives does not have an impact on Asian tourists, who usually stay in the country for no more than 2 or 3 days, and so not many Asian tourists are booking tours for the upcoming seasons as well.
Bimal Gurung from KNG Bhutan Tours and Travels shared that the new SDF incentive provides a glimmer of hope compared to the SDF 200. However, not many tourists are aware of it. He currently doesn’t have any bookings for the upcoming season, but he is hopeful of receiving a few tourist bookings in the coming weeks.
Fly Fox Bhutan Tours and travels owner Yogi said, “Currently, we are getting single digit bookings for the peak season, even after the implementation of the new SDF incentives.”
The tour operators in Phuentsholing are getting a tough competition from the tour operators from the border side, Jaigaon.
“It is relatively cheaper, therefore, they opt for the tour operators from that region instead of us,” he further added.
Many tour operators had recommended making the SDF tariff USD 100 per day as the government was already giving a 50 percent discount with the 8 and 14 days scheme.
They had also recommended to the government to get the airlines to reduce fares for Indian tourists to get more high end Indian tourists.
The total tourist figure in 2019 was 315,599.
The figure from 23 September 2022 to 26 July 2023 is 75,132 tourists of which 52,114 are INR paying tourists and 23,026 dollar paying tourist but 10,410 come under the USD 65 tariff.