To understand the context of tourism development in Bhutan the information below gives you a background on the tourism policy and the sector associates directly related to tourism development in the country.
TOURISM POLICY & REGULATIONS
Since the inception of tourism in the country a cautious approach has been adopted with the aim to protect the rich cultural and natural heritage of the country. Based on the guiding principle of ‘High Value Low Volume’ which was later changed to ‘High Value Low Impact’ the government of Bhutan has been attempting to pursue a sustainable approach to tourism development. Accordingly over the years in keeping with this approach policies have been framed.
The National Ecotourism Strategy developed by the Department of Tourism in 2001 states the Governments long term tourism vision as:
- The tourism sector will continue to develop in a responsible manner that is economically viable, socially and culturally sensitive, and environmentally sustainable.
- Tourism will be a positive force for the healthy development of the country and contribute to the quality of lives and dignified well being of all Bhutanese people.
The 9th five year plan of the government defines the tourism vision and mission as follows:
The vision: To Create a vibrant and dynamic industry making significant contributions to national development goals and to be a positive force for the cause for conservation of the environment and promotion of our culture, tradition and sovereign status.
The mission: To provide a strong and dynamic leadership to the industry in achieving wholesome and sustainable growth by creating an enabling environment for increased private sector contribution to maximize the returns from tourism, in a sustainable manner.
Further in 2015 a review of the tourism policy drafted the vision “To establish Bhutan as a model sustainable tourism destination that promotes the social and economic vibrancy of our communities, supports conservation of our ecology, celebrates the uniqueness of our cultural heritage, and contributes to Gross National Happiness.”
The present vision statement drafted as per the Tourism strategy and development plans (2013-2018) of TCB is “To foster a vibrant industry as a positive force in the conservation of environment and promotion of cultural heritage that safeguards the sovereign status of the Nation and significantly contributes to Gross National Happiness.”
The tourism policy has been mainly anchored by the pricing system through the implementation of a minimum fixed tariff. The minimum tariff presently stands at USD 250 per day for each guest for the six months of March, April, May, September, October, November and USD 200/day/person for the other six months considered as off season. This system is an all inclusive package which includes all daily meals, accommodation in a minimum 3 star standard hotel classified by TCB, ground transport with driver, licensed local guide, and camping equipment and logistics for trekking tours. In addition to this there is a visa fee of USD 40/person. All tours have to be routed through a licensed local tour operator by making payment in advance which is deposited to the government. Visa is applied online by the registered local tour operator and approval is accorded once the advance payment is received in full and all visa conditions fulfilled. The Government deducts a royalty (recently termed as the Sustainable Development Fee) of USD 65/day for each guest and the balance is released to the operator upon completion of the tour. Surcharges in addition to the tariff are charged for single guest at USD 40/day and for guests of 2 people at USD 30/day/guest.
Fee breakdown of the minimum fixed tariff
|Client pays daily (in USD)
|Less 10% commission to overseas agent
|Local agent in Bhutan receives
|Less Royalty (SDF) to Government
|Balance is released by the government to the local tour operator after deducting 2% as tax on Gross Payment. This amount received by the local tour operator pays for the tour costs of the guests and operator’s profit.
Tours to border areas and politically sensitive areas are regulated by seeking a permit issued by the Royal Bhutan Army. Permits are also issued by the Department of Forest and Park services to regulate tourists’ visitation to Parks and Protected Areas. TCB in consultation with the Department of Immigration maintains a negative list of places where visitation by International and regional visitors are restricted. Though there is no Tourism Act there are other acts and regulations that have either direct or indirect influence on tourism development.
TOURISM MANAGEMENT/RELATED AGENCIES
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB)
Tourism Council of Bhutan is the apex decision making body in the government responsible for tourism development. Since the introduction of tourism in 1974 the government has been the main decision maker, regulator and coordinator of tourism growth. Therefore the role of the government is critical. Considering the importance of tourism and its multiple sectors involved TCB has gained autonomy over the years by working independently and not being placed under any Ministry. The secretariat is staffed by civil servants headed by a Director. There are 4 Divisions – Marketing & Promotion Division, Infrastructure & Product Development Division, Services Division, and Quality Assurance Division. The secretariat reports directly to the Council chaired by the Prime Minister and consisting of members such as Minister of Ministry of Economic Affairs (Vice Chairman), Secretary MoAF, Secretary MoHCA, Secretary GNHC, President BCCI, CEO Druk Air, Chairman ABTO, Chairman HRAB, Chairman HAB, Chairman GAB, and Director TCBs as Member Secretary. For more information on TCB log on to their website https://www.tourism.gov.bt/
Department of Forests and Park Services
The Department of Parks and Services under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is also involved in promoting tourism. Recognizing the importance of tourism for conservation a new division called the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) was established to develop tourism and recreational activities in the state reserve forest and the parks and protected areas. Recently the division has been merged with the wildlife conservation division to form the Nature Conservation Division (NCD). The division also issues permits for tourists visiting the protected areas. For more information log on to their website http://dofps.gov.bt/
Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs
While there are several departments within this ministry the two departments directly involved in tourism are Department of Immigration and Department of Culture. For more information log on to http://www.mohca.gov.bt/
Ministry of labour and Human Resources http://www.molhr.gov.bt/molhr/
Supporting training and skills development for employment opportunities
Ministry of Economic Affairs http://www.moea.gov.bt/
Issuance of license for tourism business and approvals for Foreign Direct Investments
Besides the above government agencies involved in tourism management there are several associations formed to represent the private sector to support its development. These associations are registered as Mutual Benefit Organization (MBO) registered with the Civil Society Organization Authority (CSOA) and operating under the CSO Act 2007. These associations are:
Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) http://www.abto.org.bt/
Eestablished in the year 2000 to represent the local tour operators and act as their official voice. Membership by tour operators is voluntary. ABTO presently has 750 members (as of 2017) from a total of 1750 registered tour companies in the country. ABTO, run by a secretariat headed by an Executive Director actively engages in promoting sustainable tourism growth by developing and implementing several small scale donor assisted projects. ABTO is governed by a 10 member Board that is elected among its members after every 3 years. Members are elected among three categories. Category I of 3 members from tour operators that have above 500 arrivals a year; category II of 4 members from operators that generate between 101 to 499 arrivals a year, and category III of 2 members that has below 100 arrivals a year. ABTO Executive Director is the member secretary.
Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) http://www.hab.org.bt/
HRAB is a confederation of hotels and restaurants from across the country. It was established in 2007 with the mission to represent the interest of its members and foster professional growth by uplifting standards of hotels and contributing towards sustainable tourism development in the country. The Secretariat is headed by an Executive Director and governed by a Board of 7 members.
Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB)
Established in 2009 as the single collective voice of the local tour guides in the country with the mission to represent and promote professional growth of the guides. The secretariat is headed by an Executive Director governed by a 6 member Board serving tenure of 3 years.
Handicrafts Association of Bhutan (HAB) http://www.handicraftsbhutan.org/
Recognizing the importance of traditional handicrafts and concerned over the dying crafts HAB was established in 2005. Its mission is to build an integrated, entrepreneurial and vibrant handicrafts sector in Bhutan, actively supported by international and local stakeholders that contribute increasingly to the creative, cultural and economic life of Bhutan. Its membership consists of individual, organized, institution, associate, and honorary members. The secretariat is headed by an Executive Director governed by an 8 member Board.
Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) http://www.rspnbhutan.org/
Established in 1987 RSPN is the first environmental local NGO in the country. Among its various conservation programs tourism is one activity under their sustainable livelihood program. They have been actively involved in promoting community based ecotourism mainly through home stay development in Phobjikha and Haa.
Besides the above NGOs there are also several tourism training institutes directly involved in contributing towards tourism development. In addition there are several donor/support partners too involved in tourism programs as part of their overall program support to the country these include the WWF, UNDP, ACO, Helvetas, SNV, etc.