Frequent tourism policy changes deter tour agents abroad from promoting Bhutan

Bhutan’s identity as an ideal tourism destination in the international arena seems to be at risk going by what local tour operators are saying. Due to frequent changes in policy, there has been a decrease in interest from tour operators abroad. According to the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators, tour agents are becoming reluctant to market and promote Bhutan.

Bhutan opened its borders to tourists and implemented the revised Sustainable Development Fee of 200 US dollars per person per night last year.

Since then, tour agents abroad have been finding it difficult to promote Bhutan.

According to tour operators in the country, frequent changes in the policy have discouraged dollar-paying tourists who plan their trips some six months to two years ahead to visit the country.

BBS talked to almost a dozen local tour operators who all shared similar views. They did not want to come on camera but suggested we talk to the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators or ABTO who also had the same thing to say.

“With too many changes to our policy, our offshore agents have lost their confidence. So, some of the agents even stopped marketing Bhutan for now. Some even removed the Bhutan package from their website. They want us to settle first and then come up with a long-term strategy with the tourism policy here. Otherwise, if we keep on changing the policy in the short term, they cannot sell the trip,” said Kinga Dechen, Board Member of ABTO.

However, tour operators are hopeful about the 50 per cent discount on the prevailing SDF of 200 US dollars for tourists visiting the country.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment announced the changes last month.

“So, for them to get away from work for three weeks is a big deal. They really do serious planning. And this 50 per cent SDF discount will have a positive impact from next year onwards. Maybe some positive impact from spring. But definitely, we are hoping for a better turn-up,” added Kinga Dechen.

Some tour operators BBS talked to said there has been an increase in the number of enquiries following the 50 per cent discount announcement.

According to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment, the change has been made to meet the tourist arrival figures on the same volume as the pre-pandemic level by 2027.

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism said while frequent policy changes are not ideal, the changes made so far are in line with the feedback from the tourism industry.

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