Council approves tourism rules and regulations with amendments

Dechen Dolkar

In a move hailed by stakeholders, the Tourism Board of Bhutan (TCB) approved proposed changes to the Draft Tourism Rules and Regulations 2022 by service providers on September 8.

Council members agreed to insert a provision stating that tourists can pay the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) and apply for a visa directly or through tour operators.

The board decided that the TCB secretariat will follow up on the clearance of SDF’s transfer through the tour operator’s foreign currency account at the Department of Immigration. The draft rule states that the department will collect the SDF.

The council also approved the one-night SDF waiver for tourists staying in border towns of Bhutan without traveling beyond the designated points.

It has also been decided that TCB will follow up with the Ministry of Finance to offer discounts in accordance with Tourism Rules and Regulations 2017 for tours confirmed by June 20 this year.

Alternatively, the Cabinet will issue an Executive Order authorizing discounts for confirmed visits no later than June 20. Monument fees will also not apply to visits confirmed on or before June 20.

The board has also accepted that online portals can be any portal or booking system integrated with company websites, but must be identified or registered with TCB.

It has been decided that a tourist or tour operator will organize at least one guide for every 10 tourists in a group or a maximum of 15 tourists if accompanied by a guide or a main tour leader.

The council also approved that there will be no age limit for foreign vehicles as long as the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) certifies their technical inspection.

The Council also removed the age requirement for tourist vehicles and their drivers. That’s left to RSTA rules.

A tourist on a motorbike tour using a foreign or Bhutanese registered motorbike must have a maximum of 10 people per party to meet the requirement of a road captain and an emergency vehicle for the party. Larger groups would be permitted, but should be split as required by the route captain and rescue vehicle.

The council decided to assign one trekking guide for every seven tourists or a maximum of 12 tourists in one case accompanied by a senior tourist guide or an attendant.

The council said commercial bonding was introduced to professionalise the industry and as part of the required investment in addition to protecting both customers and service providers. This is also a common practice in many countries.

The board has decided that TCB will work on how to introduce business obligations, such as applying for new licenses and, after a few years, make it compulsory for all.

The board approved that guides would now be categorized into three tiers instead of four.

TCB will review the applicability of the homestay clause based on ground realities which should be rural or outside of municipal boundaries.

It was also decided that the practicality of penalties and fines will be reviewed.

Kuensel learned that draft rules and regulations that have been approved by the board will be submitted to cabinet for final approval.

However, it was mentioned that the draft rules and regulations are not set in stone and can be modified and adapted depending on the situation and progress.

Meanwhile, officials from the TCB secretariat could not be reached for comment.

Members of the board are Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji as Chairman, Secretary of Home Affairs, Director General of TCB Secretariat, Chairmen of ABTO, HRAB and GAB, Sarpang dzongdags and Trashiyangtse, and Dr. Karma Tshering, the founder of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society.

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