Visiting tourists

Potential tourists

The bedrock of our successes in the tourism sector has been the “low volume, high value” policy.  This unique policy has served us exceedingly well ever since the first tourists started visiting our Kingdom in early 1970s. And today, Bhutan is both famous and envied the world over for its cautious tourism policies.

This policy has proven itself. We continue to enjoy the rewards of tourism (government revenue, jobs and international attention) without sacrificing our culture, our environment, and our way of life. Equally important, our tourists swear, time and time again, that their experience in Bhutan has been nothing short of pure magic.

All this may change. The Prime Minister’s executive order of 13 November 2009 directs the Tourism Council of Bhutan to constitute:

A cross sector implementation team consisting of the MoEA, MoF, TCB and ABTO to frame and present the blueprint for:

  1. Roll out of the integrated channel, price and supply policy that liberalizes the minimum package price and mandatory package via tour operator requirement; yet ensuring royalty revenue to the government;

The PM’s directives are a mouthful. But, the message is simple: draft a plan to lift the minimum tourist tariff.

If the tourist tariff is liberalized, it would be the government’s biggest policy decision so far: one that would affect our economy and our country significantly. So, we should debate this momentous policy change before it comes into effect – before the “cross sector implementation team” finalises their “blueprint”.

Give me your views, so that I can share them with the relevant authorities. And participate in the poll that asks whether you support removing the minimum tariff for tourists.


Facebook Comments:


  1. let the tariff be what is…….. bhutan gets enough tourist every year… and revenue to is genereated. don’t look up,high in the mounatain like baffalos.yaks won’t return back to the southern region with fur.
    similiarly, looking for few dollars our culture and envirnment destroyed once may not return back to us……
    yak never returned back to south with baffalos’ fur…. have you seen baffalo…..visit royal manas and you would see it…………. secide wisely….
    O.L please.. you got shout loudly in the jungle of DPTs Parliment…. they are deaf…shout once in every ear of DPT M.P.
    all the best….

    • Linda wangmo says

      Dear OL

      I am into tour business and although I get only like 5 to 10 tourist per year, I am happy and I want to request our Government to keep it as it is. You know what Our PM is a being a puppet to ex Maksi Penjor, owner of Intrek in Bhutan and Nepal. I dont blame this to Mkensy but I would say this is the sole idea of intrek because Intrek already has cheap tourist comming to Nepal and he wants to do the same by selling Bhutan as a package. Intrek has already liberalized their tariff and and nobody even bothered to check on that and I dont understand how it is done. I received a letter from a agent in Nepal saying that intrek is selling for 150 dollars and that if i could give for less than that…. My answer was NO.

  2. It is a pity. It is a case of killing the golden goose. Years from now, the people will discover that the very policy that was intended to bring riches and employment to the people of Bhutan was actually responsible in murdering the business.

    Dear OL, I hope you can convince the government to have a public debate on this issue before their plan is implemented. It will not only kill a perfectly prosperous business that has seen a healthy growth year after year, but the government’s policy will also cause heightened dilution of our culture and tradition as well as bringing harm to our rural environment.

  3. Helo,
    I can understand that if the tourism policy is liberalized, then there will be no issue of undercutting of tariff. However, we must weigh the benefits and ill effects of the both systems.

    It would be a nostalgic moment to see the present tariff system giving way to the new liberalized policy. Please remember, the present system is the vision of our beloved fourth King. He already recognized Tourism sector as one of the important revenue generators of our country, but he did not liberalize it as it is a very fragile sector.

    Therefore, the present system of “High value, Low impact” policy was adopted and I truly feel it is going in the right direction. Otherwise,Look at Nepal, Bali and some other countries where everyone had depended on tourism and when a slightest disturbance occurred in the country or the region, the tourism sector suffered and effected the mass, as tourism in those places were liberalized and everyone depended on it. It was a case of putting all your eggs in one basket.

    1. The present system would be best for our country as long as we have a mechanism to check and penalize those involved in undercutting.

    2. We don’t have to detect each and every case. Just by detecting and penalizing one or two cases would have great impact as it will be widely known.

    3.Having some sort of clauses/phrases on every page of TCB website, warning the under cutters, would be effective too. Something reading like this ” Any visitor, found to have NOT paid the minimum normal tariff shall be deported immediately”.

    4. Until now, I suppose there isn’t any law in place for TCB to penalize any defaulters. Otherwise, it may not be difficult to take action against the law breakers. All payments are routed through the banks and anyone can detect whether someone has underpaid or not. Of course tour operators can adjust it from Druk Air Payments but this too could be monitored.

    5. Drawbacks of Liberalization:
    In a span of one or two years Bhutan could be a cheap destination as we will find more cheap western tourists in towns and villages. Just imagine Norzin lam getting crowded with tourists like Thamel, Nepal demonstrating cheap cultures. It wont take long before our youth adopt some of their ways of life. We must also remember, our culture and tradition will be the main binding force for our independence and Sovereignty. Therefore, let us all give it a BIG thought before it is too late.

    As for me I say “NO” to the Liberalized policy.

  4. BetterFuture says

    If the tariff liberalization comes through, it will indeed be the biggest policy decision of the government. Without politicizing the debate, let us have an open and transparent discussion about the pros and cons of such a decision. The public at large is still curious whether the government discussed with the stakeholders. Below is the discussion (13 posts as of today)going on in the Kuenselonline forum, some of which were printed in Kuensel, the national newspaper.

    Post #1:
    Username: SustainBhutan
    Where is the GNH infused Tourism Policy? Save Bhutan NOW!

    The news on the likelihood of doing away with the minimum tariff of US$200 a night for tourists is totally ridiculous & disheartening. In fact, I recommend a higher tariff. It couldn’t be an opportune time to share thoughts on this topic while the ‘iron is hot.’ It would be regretful if I were to pass this opportunity (if such a policy actually comes to fruition) and not throw in my two cents. I am wondering who on earth is proposing such policies to our government. I totally empathize the views expressed by some of the tour operators that the policy will indeed kill the industry. Bhutan is not just an ordinary tourist destination. We are an exotic and a unique destination and ‘exclusivity’ is the brand name that draws visitors to Bhutan. Even with the existing policy, tourists’ arrivals have grown rapidly (increased job creation) and if there are no infrastructure constraints during peak season, the arrivals would be much higher. We ought to address this bottleneck and look at innovative ways to spread out tours through out the year. Making online payment for tours is much desired and that possibility is a welcome news.

    If the proposal were to pass, we would see more budget hotels serving the thousands of budget tourists who are willing to spend no more than US$100 a night. We would also see growth in inferior services. We will then definitely fulfill the whatever target number of 100,000 or 250,000 arrivals by 2013, but is that what we want and is it worth it? If achieving the target NUMBER is the sole intention/agenda, then it is a different story. Interestingly, the government also has a proposal that would require all tourists hotels to be upgraded to 3-star categories. It is indeed very contradictory. There may be checks and regulations in place, but how effective is it going to be?

    It is unclear if all the stakeholders were consulted and the topic discussed appropriately. It would be great to hear them or discuss with the well-intentioned, concerned adviser (s) to the government so that we can perhaps be enlightened about all the reasons behind proposing such a policy to the government. It is alarming that the government is almost drawing up a policy that the major stakeholder (tour companies) are not in favor of. It is in the interest of Bhutan and for the long term sustainability of Bhutan as a tourist destination, that we not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” We have to be careful of not expanding too quickly and making many people (who would have otherwise taken up other options) depend on tourism for their livelihoods. It is hard to reverse a policy. We don’t have to look far; the countries in the region demonstrate it every now and then. Whenever there is trouble and bad press of the country, the tourist arrivals decline and many livelihoods are lost since there are just too many stakeholders (proliferation) depending on tourism.

    The US$65 per day per tourist ‘welfare levy’ (I prefer to use this term) needs to be looked into. Is it necessary at all and how much is appropriate?- that will be another topic. From a marketing perspective, it would be even better if the government can identify where exactly the ‘welfare levy’ is going. It would be ideal to identify specific projects that tourism dollars are addressing each year. One way to curtail companies from undercutting could be by cross checking & authenticating every payment/amount that is transferred by the client. I am personally a strong proponent of even higher tariff. More expensive the destination, more quality tourists would like to visit. Given our population size and the sacred/pure tradition & culture, we just cannot afford to have ‘mass tourism.’ Already, there is a danger of tourists out numbering locals in some festivals. At this point, it is not so much the price factor that is curtailing tourists’ arrivals but it is the lack of awareness about the existence of a country like ours, let alone knowing what we have to offer as a unique travel destination. Once folks hear about Bhutan and know what Bhutan offers, they come our way. Marketing not just by tour operators, but by the government to right clientele is the key. Currently, when tourists’ visit Bhutan, it is an in-ward journey within oneself as much it is an out-ward journey. We educate the visitors and for some it is even a life-changing experience. The rest of the world is learning from us.

    This quote pretty much sums up the argument: “Tourism is like fire. You can cook your dinner on it; or it can burn your house down. It is like seasoning on food. Some can make an improvement; a little more can make it perfect. A lot ruins it & makes a good thing disgusting.” -Anonymous-

    We ought to save special destinations such as ours in the world and allow Bhutan from not being just like any other tourist destination. We leave it upto the wise judgment of the government. Let us not allow immediate economic gains misguide/blind our policy makers from ruining our future. Share your thoughts. Spread the word. Thanks.

    For Sustainable Bhutan…

    Post #2:
    Username: Taktee
    I always thought that Govt’s policy of “high value low volume” is very appropriate for our country; given the size, population, location, etc.

    Now I am really worried, going by what I read in Kuensel about doing away with $200 per day for the sake of bringing in 100,000 tourists a year in line with Mckinsey’s recommendation (if i am correct). This, for sure is opening the flood gate and will definitely lead to a slow if not instant death to our age old tradition and culture.

    Government appears to be happy so long they get $ 65 per tourist. This brings in $ 6.5 million per year but at what costs? Is it so important to bring in that many number of tourists for the sake of money? Are we not biting more than what we can chew?

    100% FDI for the sake of few jobs for our people is also sell out.

    Post #3:
    Username: nimat
    To avoid long and boring reading – I am in agreement with idea of scrapping $200 tax but must be in tandem with other controls

    Tourism –we need to encourage as many visitors as possible and raise world’s knowledge and affection for Bhutan if we are to have any chance to protect national security against China

    Control of numbers can still be ‘regulated’ by RGoB through number of means – quota of visas issued (doesn’t apply to SAARC), limitations on growth of travel modes (plane, bus, motorbike) so that growth is controlled at acceptable rate (I don’t mean cap – I mean planned steady increases over number of years) to match growth of other services – hotels, road safety etc.

    But RGoB would need to consult to develop robust systems that allows slow increase in numbers over time and enables control, taking account of possible abuse such as ‘block buying’ of visas by travel agents (as some allege happens now with Druk Air tickets). Peru govt uses such approach, specific example is Inca trail where only so many people can be on trail at same time and varies for season to limit environmental damage and to protect ancient city from pollution. Similar at pyramids of Giza and Ayres Rock in Australia. So surely a proposal can be made for Bhutan.

    SAARC by default makes mockery of any argument based on high value, low impact as they hardly bring any money at all and want to save, save, save at every chance.

    Most visitors fall into one of 2 categories – ‘Once in a lifetime’ or regular visitors. The vast majority are Once in a Lifetime and this is why we seem to get many older guests, who have saved money from life of work to visit. Unfortunately it seems these guys mostly get poor service and experience as hotels, restaurants and agencies are not interested in them coming back. Boring meals, no hot water, dirty bedlinen. This lesson will take long time to learn as even our shops don’t have service culture and have no interest when we walk in looking for items. Many of middle ground agencies are part time organisations with hardly any professional guides, they just take advantage of peak season tourists. I’ve met many guests who may have enjoyed the Bhutanese idea but had bad experience which affects their feelings, Litter on path to takstang, fae*es outside tsechu, car pollution, poor buffet food, no heat, dirty rooms. This is not to tar all agencies, but we all know the bad apples bring us all down. We need return customers or at least those who recommend Bhutan to friends at home.

    Other category of those who return are high high end, where money is no object but also where they do not see real life or interact real people. I met group in Paro when stopping to see friend. I asked them where they were from and what they had been doing. They arrived yesterday and went to Drukgyel dzong. Today they went chelela for picnic, this afternoon sitting in hotel enjoying view. Tomorrow leaving. Hmm, apart from jobs to Bhutanese staff in the hotel, what did they contribute to our society?

    Or low end – camping, enjoying trekking, low impact depends on trek staff – I’ve seen many who throw bottles into forest or sweet wrappers. This is about quality of guides and integrity of companies and not about volume of guests only.
    From different perspective of High value low impact’, this is not borne out when there are 2 guests to a car. The fleet of tucsons and prados is proof of this and the poor control of emissions does not help our environment. Some roadside toilets have been built to reduce def*cat*on on side of road, but actually our public busses are not able to use these and do not stop there because of what? Locked and poor hygiene habits of the people to use such facilities well, no caretaker to keep user friendly. Botswana was the first country to really use the high value low impact approach and has used the free market to encourage competition and quality of service. Those that were not up to standard collapsed. Meanwhile next door, Namibia is equally expensive, but standard not good.

    We could also have long discussion on moral right to only encourage those who have finances to visit. You say there is inward journey and well as outward, well many people looking for inward path have already made decisions not to live material life and so may not have funds. No answer will be found here, but I personally feel that it is wrong in any place or case to deny right on basis of money.

    On the $65 levy, I see this as opportunity for marketing. If RGoB makes small effort to ear mark these funds and put them towards specific projects – say a hostel block or BHU, they could put on their website – 2008 guests tariff went to such and such, and 2009 tarriff went to here. This would show that truly it is being used for benefit of the people and guests would be more reassured by the levy. This is democracy in action where we the people expect accountability.

    Social tourism is a huge opportunity that Bhutan has not even opened it’s eyes to. Why? Ego? Fear of outside ideas? Or RGoB afraid of being seen as not coping? Many tourists want to spend their money not just to travel and visit but to really meet the people and contribute in some small way to those less fortunate. There are ideas for everyone’s tastes. Litter picking, teaching assistance – schools or colleges, health support – doing surveys, helping in wards, conservation – clearing paths, counting wildlife, culture – renovations. Bhutan has many unique aspects of life and I cannot even imagine how many people would be interested to learn how to build rammed earth walls, or learn Bhutanese method of making door frames whilst living with real people.

    Those part time travel agencies who are just out to make profit and don’t care fro return guests will struggle and say these rules are unfair, whereas those who genuinely are interested in providing quality service and good experience through combination of cost (finance and environmental) effective transport, reliable hotels and good service as well as experienced and knowledgeable guides will continue to adapt to demand and survive. I didn’t see one agency yet who managed to come with any real objection to this idea expect their own fear of competition disguised as concern for impact/ dissolving of cultural values. Any country that is secure in it’s identity has nothing to fear. Similarly for GNH to succeed, let us not decide who and what the people can be exposed to alleging fear that they be corrupted in some way by being overwhelmed by hordes! To be protective is one thing, to be controlling is another.

    Post #4:
    hahaha….please government don’t do away with the minimum tariff system and save our handful of tour operators. actually for me i see nothing has been changed by doing away with tariff system. the royalty remained the same($65) therefore not exactly freeing the market. i understand that a tourists visiting bhutan should pay 65 dollar on top of their expenses for accommodation, food and drinks, transportation,guided tour, entrance fees, etc. the total cost per tourists a day will still be around 200 dollar. so 200 dollar per day is quite a huge in the region. however it will definitely create a room for local tour operators to be more innovative and creative in designing tour packages and compete in the market. thus they are required to choose the strategy between cost reduction and focus on service delivery. with cost reduction the services would have to be compromised, and if you compromise on the services, tourism itself is a service industry and you will suffer. with focus on quality service delivery, one should have resources, organizational capabilities, infrastructures, network, need for management development, training development, and these all cost money and needs investment. where do the money come from? tourists….how? by charging high. when you charge high mass tourism….. because everyone in this world don’t have a same level of disposible income. hoteliers will have to wake up and work more harder. local operators will always look for a better hotel for their clients since their focus is on service. so hotels have to compete and competition is ultimately good for the general market. clients or the tourists will be satisfied with the services they receive for their price and will have no adverse impact on brand building. country’s reputation or the image as an exotic or unique destination would then be realized.

    by the way i am not an tourism expert nor do i have any knowledge about tourism policy of the country, however this is my two cents and hope it does not effect anybody’s emotions. cheers

    Usrname: sgfred
    Location: Singapore/China

    Me as a foreigner do fully agree to keep Bhutan in its natural beauty and clean environment. By lowering the tarrif though will encourage more tourist and income for the country but it will invite unscrupulous budget travellers. I have only visited Bhutan once and is amaze by its beauty and isolation, culture and the promoting of GNH. Once the county is open up freely, there will bound to be social issues amongst Bhutanese.

    Do keep up with the hgih tariffs and keep Bhutan’s natural heritage, culture and GNH within.

    Username: hover

    Tourism policy of “high value,low volume” has helped in preserving the living culture of our country which is unique in its own way. This policy should continue so that Bhutan remains different from rest of the other tourist destinations. By bringing down the daily tariff it will hit hard negatively on the present tourism policy. We need to work more on the present infrastructure, develop new products, open up places, make it sustainable and viable so that there is a balance. Tourism alone cannot create jobs or solve unemployment problems for hundreds or thousands.


    For Sustainable Bhutan, here is my thought……Bhutan’s tourism policy of “High Value and Low Impact” is an offshoot of practical GNH-application. This middle path approach was coined during the era of the Great Monarch, His Majesty -the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. We do not need McKinsey and Company to alter. It should always stay as the foundation of our tourism policy. Whatever new policy required should be designed around the old policy. The related problems with the old tariff system, as we experienced, were all because of bad implementation. Anybody can guess who the implementer’s were? The lack of directions from the planning authorities took several years to understand tourism as a national priority; tax ambiguities were not researched well; ministries and other government bodies did not associate with each other; user friendly options were never updated and private sector views hardly counted much in the decision making.
    We are just waking up with the new dream of harnessing the private sector benefits. Within this backdrop, it is pertinent that tourism tariff system is reviewed. But the rumour that government would employ high-handed capitalist ideology should not come true. Why? Because we all know that such capitalist formulas rarely respect the canons of GNH philosophies. Should the government opt for free tariff after deducting royalty then we are heading the wrong way. Such policy does not safeguard the good-governance pillar. There will be no equality to socio-economic opportunities. The modern day economic imperialism will destroy our culture and the pristine environment will take a big beating.
    Tourism stakeholders appreciate government participation in uplifting the realm of private sector. The business bodies’ ultimate goal is profit maximisation. Nonetheless, as true sons of the soil, they advocate strongly the social responsibilities. They understand the role in promoting employment and other opportunities. The care of culture and the environment is very much part and parcel of the tourism industry. As good citizens, they do contribute to the economy through tax generation.
    In a nutshell, the government must bring a sensible modification when it comes to assisting the private sector. GNH guided tourism can promise many things for our future generation. So lets us all work together to leave a gift for the next generation. Our Kings have done that and we as forerunners of the People’s Government must do the same. Changing the tariff is not so simple. A mistake will be like disturbing the hornet’s nest. There is a wise Bhutanese saying, “Dhon-khai khab thuwa, Jhab-khai Tah-ree tah-go – meaning when you bend forward to pick up the needle, beware of the huge axe behind”.


    As this vital debate gathers momentum, it is essential to know the background/context. Below is the summary of the Kuensel story by Sonam Pelden that provoked this discussion. Timely indeed! Share your insights & keep the comments coming, to save Bhutan NOW Exclamation …

    21 December, 2009: “Tour operators express qualms: Doing away with minimum tourism tariff may upset apple cart, say critics…

    Tour operators are worried that if the executive order to do away with the existing tourism tariff of USD 200 a day comes through, it would negatively impact the country’s culture and environment, as well as reduce the tour operator’s role to that of commission agents.

    The order, issued on November 13, states that, while the government’s royalty of USD 65 would be ensured, a blueprint of the plans to do away with the minimum package price should be framed and made ready by this month. The order also stated that all hotels catering to tourists should upgrade to at least a three star category.

    Waiving off the existing tariff is among several directives the government has ordered to be looked into, to enhance domestic revenue and generate employment opportunities by increasing the number of tourists to 100,000 in the next three years.

    Tour operators feel that the decision is not right for a country like Bhutan and that it goes against the country’s policy of high value low volume tourism…

    …The decision to waive off the minimum tariff has not yet been taken, according to tourism council of Bhutan (TCB).

    The executive order says that an implementation team, comprising representatives from the ministry of economic affairs, ministry of finance, TCB and association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO), would have to frame a plan by the end of this month. “The team will be meeting this week to discuss and see what kind of mechanism needs to be in place,” said the TCB’s spokesperson, Kinley Wangdi.

    According to TCB, Bhutan today has about 200 tour operators. In the past five years, tourists visiting Bhutan have been increasing by 35 percent annually. About 28,000 tourists visited last year.”


    Taktee wrote:
    I always thought that Govt’s policy of “high value low volume” is very appropriate for our country; given the size, population, location, etc.

    Now I am really worried, going by what I read in Kuensel about doing away with $200 per day for the sake of bringing in 100,000 tourists a year in line with Mckinsey’s recommendation (if i am correct). This, for sure is opening the flood gate and will definitely lead to a slow if not instant death to our age old tradition and culture.

    Government appears to be happy so long they get $ 65 per tourist. This brings in $ 6.5 million per year but at what costs? Is it so important to bring in that many number of tourists for the sake of money? Are we not biting more than what we can chew?

    100% FDI for the sake of few jobs for our people is also sell out.
    what GNH? What? There isn’t any GNH! Its just a theory now and definatively it ll serve no purpose unless we have faithfull government other than DPT!…After DPT is in power everything stands still,perhaps it is making to fall into pieces…There is no GNH,mind it very poor lots are still in hunger and suffering where very reach lots are enjoying the luxury of people’s money..There is ample gap,distance of rich and poor…Happiness is still unbalanced..And DPT and its lousy MPs can not elicit and implement GNH..These days they are busy robbing our people’s money, they just just busy fighting for pay hike among them self!…..

    Post #10

    What GNH? Where is that? Just don’t get fooled by just a theory! We have lots of very disadvantage section of population, hunger and suffer, poverty and corner of country still do prevails…There isn’t any GNH! Do not talk of such topic we feel like vomiting..Its nausaeting!..Its utter rubbish..Haven’t u all heard that our so call the GNH is in utter failure in recent talk at Brazil?We are in flop, there isn’t any implementation!..Instead DPT and its government are these day busy creating difference between rich and poor..There is no GNH in Bhutan not until we change government..Not with jyt!..We are great full to our king who has this vision of GNH BUT DPT has failed to implement it..

    Post #11

    Here is a take (aptly put) from an expat who was/is in Bhutan:

    “…So 12 weeks in, Bhutan feels like a place with a great past in front of it. No wonder they keep it so expensively hidden. The high value _ low volume policy seems very wise. If they open the gates, Thimphu would be like Kathmandu in a year, and this kingdom is far, far too precious _ and indeed innocent and not ready _ to be swamped and diluted by hordes of people who will admire the scenery, respect the religion and then start demanding their own multiple and outrageous needs after sunset.” -Roger Beaumont- Consultant, Author, Journalist (source: Drukpa news magazine, Dec. ’09)

    Post #12
    Username: mineralwater

    This is a continuation of GNH and tourism articles given in the readers forum. I would also like to make some comments received from some tour operators and other parties concerned. The discussion seem to be on the removal of a government tariff of US$ 200 on tourists visiting Bhutan. Everyone seem to be very concerned with this set up by the government of TCB as there are some far reaching ill effects should this be done. The concerned authorities are not aware of some implications of removing this fixed tariff. Imagine the tour price starting at US$ 65 as opposed to price starting at US$ 200/ $ 180. At US$ 65 starting, we are bound to attract budget tourists who will spend less, who will stay in very economical lodges, who will back pack all over the place and fill our tourists attractions like how Indian construction labourers flood the main streets of Thimphu in the evenings and weekends. Is this desired? Once the issue of removed tariff doesnot work, it will be too late to revert to what we have just now. So our concerned authorities need to be cautious. TCB says they will monitor and make sure that the guests stay in 3 star or more hotels but how on earth the monitoring will take place when the TCB despite huge man-powers cannot even monitor the trekking litters that are supposed to be brought back from the treks.

    Another issue seem to be on the marketing front at TCB. We hear that Nu. 26 million will be set aside for marketing. But wait a minute – how is TCB going to undertake marketing when the officer designate at TCB for marketing has no idea about marketing. Couldn’t TCB hire someone with a marketing background in this job. TCB needs to assess this situation.

    Anyway, we hope the authorities will hear the issues of the tour operators and stake holders and make sure that we uphold the sound tourism policies of “High value low volume”. It is a very sound policy of our fourth King of Bhutan and we cannot send it down the drain.


    Post #13
    Username: SustainBhutan

    Here is another perspective from a well-wisher of Bhutan- reported in the Kuensel newspaper issue dated 5th January, 2010.

    Barbie Hawkins states the following:

    “I support the many tour operators, citizens, and fellow travellers, who believe that cutting the daily tourist tariff is the wrong approach to raise revenue…
    …there is no price that can be placed on a genuine cultural experience…
    …I don’t believe focusing on the bottom line is worth losing the essence of what makes this country so valuable….
    …by cutting the tariff, Bhutan is essentially agreeing to sell out her beliefs and ideals just to make a dollar…
    …Keep the tariff and focus on what Bhutan really has to offer…an authentic experience that is worth every dollar.”

    Before it is too late, It will be great if the government or Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) can organize a panel discussion or a Q&A session involving the various stakeholders from the travel industry and movers and shakers from the government. People MUST know all the good/valid reasons and hopefully enlighten those that are not in favor of the tariff removal. It can’t be stressed enough…even with the current policy, the tourism industry continues to expand exponentially. So what is the issue? There should be an open dialogue and autocratic decisions (only familiar to few countries in the world) cannot be made.

    Let us pursue a development path, that our grandchildren would thank us for. Keep the dialogue going. Sustainably yours~

    • ResponsibleTours says

      I would like to say, stick to your minimum US$200 per day, you have a good thing there. I agree with most that High Quality and Low Volume is the way to go. A couple of you have given the example of Nepal going in the wrong direction by becoming a cheap destination rather than an exotic one, i couldn’t agree more. Almost every Tom, Dick and Harry are becoming Tourism Entrepreneurs and the only way they can attract business is by offering cheaper rates. There is only so much one can bring the price down and then exploitation will have to take place, i.e low or bad payment of porters,staff,transporters, hotels etc.

      The foreign Tour Operators are no Angels either, once you have an open market, they will squeeze local companies as much as they can to for maximum profit despite their claims to Responsible Tourism practices etc. These ‘Chillips’ are some of the biggest hypocrites and they will wring you dry.

      Do not let go of the good thing you have, SAY NO to the “Liberisation” of the Tourism Market in your still pristine country, raise your voices to prevent a disaster in the waiting.

      You friendly Jaga Supporter from Nepal!

  5. Mr. Viewer says

    Dear OL,
    It would be of much support and on the line if you could say some thing to our beloved parliamentarians who are in the boat sailing to Rome for their own benefit…
    Rather then the government trying to lower the tariff how about if the government for once looks into “lowering the royalty against us” We have to pay a royalty then another way the tax so i think fair enough if the royal against us to pay is lowered then the deal of lowering the tariff sounds oki but still why is it that the government always tries to play the head of the family now in a democratic country. We do have out association and on the other side I hope that APTO is also up to represent something supportive on behalf of us rather then trying to say that they are representing the Bhutan tourism industry and taking tours around the globe where we can do our own marketing…
    Can we hence have a fair platform of trust and freedom to discuss rather then the MPs increasing their salary and then bringing it to the public thereafter.

  6. I think Honorable LYONCHEN has already heard about the sentiments of the stake holders with regards to this decision of liberalization of tariff. LYONCHEN, I believe has considered to meet with the stake holders sometime in mid Janaury mainly to discuss and debate the concerns that is there to be expressed. I am pretty sure Hon’ Lyonchen will hear out the concerns if the liberalization is at the cost of killing the GOLDEN GOOSE. Save Bhutan now…..tomorrow may be too late to revert. This decision is like a single match stick causing a whole forest fire during the winter months. It will be like the Lunana lake bursting and our valleys will be flooded to huge repercutions. Thank you Hon ‘ OL for discussing this. And we ahve every hope that our LYONCHEN will carefully gauge this too…After all he is the champion of our GNH ideals….

  7. This maybe completely out of tropic but I can’t help noticing that ever since our country became constitutional monarchy,our entire population is becomming less humane and more materialistic. If you go to even a small village all they talk about is money and people are going crazy trying to catch up with one another. My father who used to be such a loving and compassionate person is slowly becoming a grumpy old man talking all the time about money. He can’t even read and write,but just because our neighbour has a cellphone he wants one too. Can you believe,just to buy a cell phone he has become a porter for the businessman of my village. He and our only old mule are working their butts off carrying business goods from town to the village,which takes two to three days crossing hills and mountain terrains with terrible roads.

    I’m wondering if our PM and Parlimentarians are not rushing too fast with their policies at the cost of our precious traditions,cultures and our way of lives,which was so strongly preserved by our great kings. Even a simple common people like me are feeling it, and I have to say I don’t like this feeling. Maybe I’m backward in thinking.

  8. Dear All,

    Just my thought on this issue. For me, as long as there is a mechanism to pay the full royalty by the tourist on arrival through any port, there beyond the level of leisure and comfort should be at the choice of the tourist. However, back packers should be stopped at any cost and a requirement of reservation with a local tour operator is a must.
    That way, depending on the will of the tourist to spend on either getting a ride on a Toyota Prado versus simply any car or sleeping in posh resorts versus occupying a bed in a farm house (promoting eco tourism) might also be considered. The practice at the moment is the flat tariff and sometimes driving a big car across the country even if for a single guest. Therefore, the size of group is a concern if the visitor opts to do so.
    I have put this up just as my opinion and would continue to read this to know more on what people say about this policy.

  9. Tweaking current tourism policy, or for that matter any other, may be well within the mandate of the elected government. In fact, I encourage and applaud the current government in their attempts to strengthen and expand various sectors of the national economy. Having said that…
    If revenue generation is paramount to the current government’s agenda then let them seek for other industry that while no less invasive will at least be under some modicum of control.
    To even think of completely transforming the whole tourism industry with concurrent implications that will effect the very essence of our nationhood is tantamount to hubris. Such an opening of the gates to a flood of tourism will pervade the lives of all citizens directly and intimately, bringing in wake far reaching implications that will corrode the very fabric of our society. If the temporary occupants of the hallowed corridors of power still desire to follow through with this proposal despite the popular and informal expressions that have been raised, then put it to the test and have a referendum.
    I am not versed in the sacrosanct Constitution bestowed upon the Kingdom of Bhutan by the most revered and precious institution and personage of the Druk Gyalpo, but is there not a line in there somewhere that says something about a referendum on matters of national importance.
    Let the people decide…Consensus, popular vote, democratic norms, time honoured traditions… Let the people decide.
    The people of Bhutan must not be treated with impudence. The people expect, no the people demand better from those put in place to lead us.

  10. Dear OL,

    I am totally against on this policy..”liberalization of tariff”.
    1. The policy is against GNH..our beloved 4th King’s concept.
    2. Killing small operators…which will kill poor people and survive big operators who can bring tourist at their own rate.The rich wil become richer and poor will become poorer…finally clash between have and have nots..
    3.Bhutan will be like Nepal.
    4.high volume …more work for tour operators..high revenue for govt..high impact of disaster to environment, culture,people and finaly land up in problem.
    5.if this policy is meant for “under cut” then govt has to check the payment inflow and outflow through banks.there is way to check..through consultancy..not hiring McKinsey but our own bhutanese consulatant(they know our lopholes).
    6.Bhutan is democracy…govt cant decide the policy as they has to come to all tour operators notice …simple way of voting. “yes” or “no”.i mean to say “majority”.
    7.low volume high value..a successful startegy for our country like Bhutan…when ever i meet any cheleep..they comment me to follow the same startegy.
    8.One day black neck crane will not be there in phubjikha but land up in some other side of india..ha..ha. if we follow high volume..

    Dear OL..i think u have to do something on this policy because its not fair for all concern citizens of Bhutan.

    i fully disagree “liberalization of tariff.”

  11. Tour operators confused over tariff liberalisation

    January 14: An executive order from the cabinet to liberalize tariff for tourists has left many tour operators in the country in a state of confusion. The executive order was issued in November last year.

    The order says that this is being done to attract at least one hundred thousand tourists by 2012. Most tour operators said this will have a serious impact on the culture and identity of the country.

    While many tour operators welcomed and appreciated the government’s initiative to promote the tourism sector, they said the decision to liberalize the tariff was never consulted with the tourism industry.

    Many tour operators BBS spoke to including the well established as well as some of the new companies said that the liberalisation of tariff for tourist is not the right thing that the government is heading towards.

    While most said the new system will attract cheap tourism, some said that the new order will place the sovereignty of the tour operators at risk.

    The Managing Director of Sakteng Tours and Treks, Tshewang Rinzin, said that with the liberalisation there will be lots of backpackers. “Once we liberalize the rates, the tourist will walk freely in the villages and this is going to have a serious implication our culture.”

    “We fear that the major operators abroad will ask smaller operators to function as commission agents, this way the sovereignty of the tour operators here is at risk,” said Karma Galey of Khamsa Tours & Treks.

    Liberal tariff for tourists according to the tour operators will also have a serious impact on the country’s culture.

    On the question of identity, most tour operators said that liberal tariff will mean putting at risk the government’s own policy of high value- low volume tourism.

    “People abroad look up to Bhutan as an exotic destination but the liberalisation of tariff contradicts the brand name of high value– low volume policy that Bhutan as carried for so long,” said Kinley Gyeltshen, Co-partner Gangri Tours & Treks.

    “As of now, we all know that we get quality tourists who are responsible and who respect our culture, tradition, the policies and the environment, this will be gone.”

    Asked upon what is best for the tourism industry, most preferred sticking to the existing tariff rate of a minimum of US$ 180. They said this system has been in smooth operation without any problem since the early seventies.

    “I would say, we should maintain the same rate. Last year when the government wanted to revise the tariff, we requested to keep on hold because of the global economic recession and the government respected out concerns. So once the recession is completely over, the government can increase slightly on the existing rate because liberalising it would definitely mean destruction for us,” said Tshewang Rinzin, MD, Sakteng Tours & Treks.

    Meanwhile, there were also some new tour companies who welcomed the executive order to liberalise tourism tariff. Deepak Tamang, the Managing Director of Raven tours says that the new system will allow an equal platform for competition and disagreed to the list of negative impacts that majority of the tour operator felt.

    “The tourism industry is already seeing competition and the liberalisation of rates will mean providing an equal platform for the small and the big companies to compete. The negative impacts my friends are mentioning will not be felt strongly as we have a good system in place to take care of the tourists,” said Deepak Tamang, MD, Raven Tours.

    The Tourism Council and the Association of Bhutanese tour operators in the meantime are discussing this with the tour operators to request the government to re-visit its decision.


  13. BetterFuture says

    Thank you Jigme for posting the timely BBS news article. Even with the existing tourism policy, we are continuing to have alarming growth in tourist arrivals. At this growth rate, it won’t be long when we will have to in fact raise the minimum tariff. We can maintain status quo and the government should instead look at addressing the loopholes. After all, no system, anywhere is perfect. I am not sure if we need outside experts (hopefully they have traveled the world & also have some background in tourism) to advise us when our model of tourism is envied the world over. Countries have hard time reversing policy decisions. If at all we need experts, we will be better off if they can instead attempt to provide solutions to current bottlenecks in the system. Some of the remedies that quickly come to my mind are:
    – Increase Druk-Air flights or open to select foreign airlines. Not only have additional flights, but of utmost importance is the predictability of the schedule. Travel partners abroad market the tours a year or two in advance (produce brochures and promotion materials) and most travelers plan at least a year ahead. So it should be possible for guests, not only to check the schedule but also be able to purchase the ticket right away.
    – Enabling online payment system (including credit card) for tours will be a huge boon to the industry.
    – Monitoring undercutting through cross-checking of payment and taxation. While tour companies file for tax, it can be scrutinized.
    – Exit survey at the airport & other exit points asking questions about who the guests traveled with…how much they paid for their visit….who they used as the tour operator….whether they used a travel operator abroad or they booked directly…etc.
    – Like Tashel Laglenpa mentioned, it should be mentioned clearly on TCB’s homepage that undercutting is illegal and anybody who does so must be reported and brought to task. There should be a forum (on the TCB website) where complaints can be posted and there could be a ‘whistle blower’ policy in place whereby confidentiality and anonymity is respected.
    Likewise, the government could mandate all tour operators that they should have a tab on their website, mentioning that payment for tours below the minimum tariff is not legal. We will have to explain our sustainable tourism policy (why we do what we do) so people appreciate and know that they are indeed traveling to a special place. There are not many special places in the world like ours, and we HAVE TO protect such places for generations to come.

    I am sure there will be a panel discussion soon on this topic with representatives from tour operators, hoteliers, TCB, the ruling government (politician/s), the consultants/advisers (if any). People ought to know. Thank you BBS!

    …Whatever the outcome, it is necessary that decisions are arrived at, through transparent mechanism (cannot emphasize enough). It should be understood & agreed by the stakeholders and the majority. Share your thoughts/ideas. Do you want to see more tourists along the Norzin Lam and at the sacred festivals? Let us think beyond the material aspect. Keep the discussion alive and SAVE BHUTAN NOW!

  14. Ugyen Penjor says

    In developing economies as it is with our Bhutanese economy, Governments have selected the sectors of economy to push forward after deliberating again and again in their parliament as we should have done since we have since 2008 transformed into a democratic system, of which i am also an important component as a voter and more importantly as a citizen, it seems that the elected Government decided to leave out very conveniently the views and deliberations of the parliament with regard to this very important policy change which will ultimately effect the lives of the majority of the citizens from the urban dweller to the yak herders school going child and the farmers who make a living as horseman as we are talking about mass tourism and the negative impacts that we all have seen globally due to mass tourism. Specially that our two most important values that every tourist advices us as guides and operators when they are leaving the country after their trip is, keep the nature as it is now, and to keep our culture the way it is now. With mass tourism being proposed, I would like to be able to point fingers and make the people responsible after the effects start to take non-reversable impacts 5-6 years down the line. Tourism is as they say, the second most important sector for the Bhutanese economy. Three years back, the then Department of Tourism was deliberating or rather trying to enforce on having a fixed royalty by means of a ‘Bhutan Card ‘ concept , which ensures a fixed income for the Government, which is fine by tour operators as they to know their duties as citizens of the country and then doing exactly the same system as the present elected Government is proposing under the ‘Executive Order’ of the Prime Minister. Rolling out of the integrated system and whereby liberalization takes place. But yet trying to control by means of a high end destination. Mckinzy, may have been the right choic e by our Government but by what I have seen, the consultant working in particular with tourism is no doubt a very good data collector and analyzer and a excellent presenter but nothing beyond this. Definitely there is no real in depth big change which makes a tour operator owe with open mouths and say we never thought of that. The bottom line is simple, ensure royalty to the Government and make tourist stay in minimum 3 star accommodations, so that we are ensuring, ‘High Value’. We all know this simple rule, it is nothing new, this is in practice since 1974, when tourism opened, and our Great Monarchs made this the policy even till now. Then why are people trying to change this. These people have to be made responsible and accountable if the system that is working is changed. We have to be able to bring down these people and be able to put names on these people when the system starts to fail down the years. The Bhutan card was to guarantee tourist arrivals and income for the Government as well as employment, three-four years have past with the tour operators completely against the idea of liberalization and the results, we have achieved double increase in tourist arrivals,from 13,000+ to 27,000+, double increase in foreign exchange and etc. So then what is the problem with the policy makers here, can the law intervene or where do we approach when such a dictator kind of policy is being trying to be pushed down our throat and system. I pray that 5-6years down the line we will be as prestine and culturally rich and beautiful as we are now.

    • Ugyen, i agree with you about the under qualified consutant for tourism. I also agree we should be able to make the decision makers accountable if the change goes negative and yet implementing knowing the change is no good for the country

  15. I dont know if liberalizing tourism is good for our people and our environment. On one hand the new government pledge for Bhutan to be carbon neutral and on the other hand we wand to liberalize tourism. It is true we need to boost our economy but do we need to the flush gate of one $1.00 tourist to come into Bhutan and let the waste be left behind instead of footprints. There are few questions pondering in my mind.
    1. Do we have the infrastructure to absorb million tourist?
    2. Do we have the carrying capacity to take so much rubbish left behind by the one dollar tourist?
    3. Are we ensuring quality tourism or hippy tourism? Choice is with the new policy makers.
    4. Do we want to promote tour operators to run their office from a briefcase? A briefcase office can reduce the overhead costs (house rent, staff and no permanent location). With the new technology mobile phone can used as an office… be it internet, calls or photo sessions.
    5. Is 3 star hotel a myth or reality? If it is reality, which one dollar tourist is willing to spend a night in one of these hotels? which star are we promoting…. a 3 star hotel or a place under a tree where all tourists can look up into the clear night skies to gaze at the stars. Who will monitor which tourist is staying in a tree (3) star hotel?
    6. Who will ensure the safety of the tourist? When the tourists are left on their own, they could get lost? There are no taxis to stop for a ride and you can hardly meet a soul for days when traveling in remote places. Are we encouraging white hitch hikers?
    7. In Bhutan we require permits to travels or visit a monastery or lhakhang. Will those impatient tourists willing to spend a day or two in Bhutan just to obtain a permit without sight seeing?
    8. Finally, who monitors
    a. the visitors when we do not even have a system to,
    b. the TCB
    c. the briefcase tour operators (by then all well established operators will be bankrupt)
    d. quality of guides (professionalism)
    e. whether the tourists is staying in a 3 star hotel or a tree star gazing rooms.
    f. please add your two pence too…..

  16. I agree to many of the comments posted by different people but I am only surprised to see that there is not a single person who has posted anything in favour of the liberalisation. This clearly gives a one sided picture and makes me think as to who were those tour operators that supported the cause …, lets listen to them as well to make a good decision. It is also clear that the present ministers were fully involved in the design of “low volume high price” tourism policy and therefore they know more than any other citizen in this country. In order to provide balanced view however, it should be viewed from different angles. Few have also posted about the referendum in a number of times. Let us read whether our constitution has clauses for such things in the first place and if not it is too late to bark … things such as this (referendum) should have been suggested few years ago when the constitution was discussed all over the country.

    • Thanks for the suggestion to read the Constitution. I read it again to clarify my doubts. You must read it too.
      And, while the deeper legalities of the document are still beyond my grasp, the intrinsic value and noble essence of this Most Precious Jewel has strengthened my pride to be called a citizen of Bhutan who is fortunate to have worked and lived under the reign of two Druk Gyalpo.[PALDEN DRUKPA GYALO]
      I digress…
      Refer Articles 34 and 35 of the Constitution. Looks like someone did suggest or thought it prudent to include “this” [referendum]a “…few years ago…”
      I am not clear on section 3 of article 34. Does it apply only to taxes, as I am unable to interpret whether the words “imposition, “variation” and “any other grounds” refer specifically to taxes, or to any other issue “…as may be prescribed by Parliament”.

  17. Why try to mend when it is not broken. The present policy is perfect????

  18. Ofmountains says

    I fully support PM’s policy and I think we are now ready to handle influx of tourists. Tourist should be allowed to visit Bhutan even without tour agent like any other countries such as Thailand, Singapore, etc… The benefits are enormous and an opportunity for all to grow. Let the platform be open for every body to take part. We can not remain closed and this is the right time we open and let the majority of world’s people to see and enjoy natural beauty of Bhutan. Isn’t wonderful and good idea to share our good things with majority of worlds’ population.

  19. Ofmountains says

    I fully support PM’s policy and I think we are now ready to handle influx of tourists. Tourist should be allowed to visit Bhutan even without tour agent like any other countries such as Thailand, Singapore, etc… The benefits are enormous and an opportunity for all to grow. Let the platform be open for every body to take part. We can not remain closed and this is the right time we open and let the majority of world’s people to see and enjoy natural beauty of Bhutan. Isn’t it wonderful and good idea to share our good things with majority of worlds’ population?

  20. sharchop says

    I don’t think this Region needs another ‘Nepal’


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