In all the Tourism Bill and SDF debate we are missing the forest for the trees. If one takes a careful look, the tourism transformation or reforms are aimed at many multiple issues which we are facing, which will all get worse in the future if not handled now.
While a lot is being made about professionals and others heading to Australia, these are not the real worry as they are mainly from well off or middle class families or are trained well and will end up doing well in Australia.
The bigger concern is the thousands of desperate youth, including women, heading to unsafe destinations in the middle east only so that they can save a few thousands a month and send it back.
Bhutan cannot offer the pay and facilities of Australia, and so its first order of business is to prevent our poorer youth form throwing themselves at drudgery in unsafe destinations.
This is where high value tourism comes in as it not only has a huge job generating capacity, but if handled well, can also generate quality jobs for these youths.
And, who knows, even some of the youth heading to Australia could be tempted to stay back and try their luck here.
Reforms in this sector would also help uplift the wages of the thousands who are already in mainly poorly paid jobs in the tourism sector and could also help attract unemployed local youth.
So tourism reforms would help our unemployed youth, youth heading to dangerous locations like the middle east and the underpaid ones in the sector already.
It must be remembered that often the families of these youths are also the most desperate and in need of socio-economic help and thus this will also help in poverty alleviation.
On the government side, the USD 200 SDF will be an important source of foreign currency and also revenue in the longer run. This is important as our hydro projects are delayed or stuck and there are no other big sources of revenue in the medium term.
In the tourism sector the doing away of the minimum daily package rate is a very good idea as it liberalizes the tourism sector which can open up to its true potential.
Imagine if you are a tourist going to Bangkok paying USD 450 to 500 a day but when you reach there you only get around USD 120 or USD 70 of service and have no real choice in where you stay, where you go, what you eat and are taken around like school children on a field trip. You would not want to go back to Bangkok.
On the social side the reform combined with the SDF for regional tourists (Nu 1200 per day) will help combat the menace of mass tourism and budget tourism that will have deep environmental, cultural, social and other negative impacts. Imagine having to jostle for space to visit a Lhakhang or finding litter in our sacred sites.
The reforms at the end of the day are tailored to the issues faced by the Bhutanese and we should support it given what is at stake.
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” Freya Stark