5 October, 2012
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Association of Bhutan Tour Operators, Handicraft Association and Guides’ Association of Bhutan have started inspecting whether tour operators in Bhutan have proper office setups with regular employees from where they do their business.
A notice was issued to all tour operators asking them to update their office locations with mandatory requirements on August 31 this year. According to tour operators’ rules and regulations of 1999, a tour operator’s office should have basic equipment like computers, fax machine, and internet connectivity with proper contact address.
TCB, in the meanwhile, has temporarily suspended issuing new licences to travel agents. Once the inspection is completed by the end of this October, licence will be issued.
Kinley Wangdi, the officiating head of the corporate performance department of TCB, said that such inspection was necessary to make the tour operators in Bhutan more professional and to make sure that tour operators are benefiting other people by providing employment.
Many small-time tour operators are suspected to be operating their business from home.
While tourism is one of the biggest earning sectors in Bhutan, most of the operators are not operating professionally, Kinley Wangdi said.
“TCB has a mandate to benefit the economy of our country,” he said. To set up an office would involve cost, of course, but tour operators have to do it because lack of proper office is going to affect the tourist flow into Bhutan, he added.
The number of tourists visiting Bhutan decreased to 23,480 in 2009 from 27,636 in 2008, which translates to Nu 94.821 million of revenue loss for TCB.
Sangey Lhaden, TCB’s visa officer, said most of the hotels and tourists are complaining about the services provided by the tour operators. It is also difficult for TCB to contact tour operator because they have no proper address.
The TCB issues licences to the tour operators without any charges, she said. However, the ministry of economic affairs charges Nu 13,000 for approval and Nu 12,000 for renewal every year.
TCB has issued 904 licences since 1974. From January 1 to June 30 this year, the government generated Nu 3,972,000 through renewing 331 licences. As of July 1, 2012, 146 tour operators renewed their licences.
According to the 2009-2010 revenue report, TCB was the fourth highest revenue earning sector in Bhutan. It contributed Nu 539.212 million to the government. Collection from TCB constitutes royalty on tourism and TDS from tourism businesses.
Dongtu, the regional director of the economic affairs ministry, said that an independent office is necessary for the tour operators so that TCB will know which office is located where.
SangayWangchuk, the director of EthoMetho Tours and Treks, said that each and every tour operator has obligation to generate income for the nation and moral responsibility to provide meaningful and gainful employment.
What TCB is doing right now will only professionalise Bhutanese tour operators. But doing inspection, he said, is just waste of time. Instead TCB should look into indirect impacts like how much the tour operators earn and pay to the government, he added.
Sangay Wangchuk said that the minimum expenditure to run the office comes to about Nu 10 million a year, which may not be much of a problem for big operators. But it is difficult for the small operators.
The inspection will be complete by tomorrow. After the inspection, TCB will convene a meeting to decide what to do with the issue.
By Chador Wangmo