Friday, April 15, 2022

Time For Decision is NOW!

What a friend told me few years’ back still reverberates in my mind – the wisdom of which is beginning to sink in only now – many years later. The friend told me in disgust:

“Yeshey, remember the world will not wait for Bhutan.”

My friend was right then, and few decades later she is still right – the world is passing us by and we are blissfully rooted in lethargy and indecision. Yes, I am talking about reopening of tourism.

Time is here to be decisive – to act, to move ahead, and not have an orgasm over it all – thinking, talking and discussing endlessly.

And, by the way, who are doing the talking and the thinking and the discussing? Apparently not the industry stakeholders who know best – Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Hotel & Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) and Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB). Upon these three sector associations collectively submitting a written request to the TCB Secretariat to convene a Council Meeting so that the matter relating to reopening of tourism may be discussed, they were told that the matter is being discussed at the government level. The Council Meeting remains suspended as of 11th March, 2021. In the last more than a year, the apex tourism authority has not once held their Council Meeting!

How can the government discuss the matter, in isolation of the industry players? How are the bureaucrats and the civil service better qualified to discuss the matter – better than the stalwarts in the business of tourism? What is the rationale behind keeping the industry players in the dark? Why is the decision being left to the clueless and the uninitiated?

We need to reopen the country’s most vital industry - AND WE NEED TO TAKE THE DECISION WHEN TO DO SO – NOW! Even if we take the decision now, the ancillary services will need atleast three months to be ready to accept and receive the tourists. So, effectively, if we decide now, the actors in the industry will only be ready to receive the tourists sometime in August/September.

Tour operators will need time to spread the word, potential guests will need to plan and allocate time for travel, tourist class hotels need time to carry out repairs and renovations and refurbishing, cooks need to be recalled, guides need to be reinstated, overseas agents need to be informed and given time to start promoting the country.

Just swishing the magic wand will not translate into instant arrivals – more than two years of inactivity has caused rust to form – we need time to oil the spindles and tighten the screws that may have come undone.

ONE IMPORTANT REQUEST: For once please start being more creative. My experience so far has been that whenever discussions happen on vitalizing tourism, the discussions unfailingly hinge on one single issue: doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff – the one component of the tourism policy that has proven to be the MOST CREATIVE.

If we do away with the Minimum Daily Tariff, within a year the country will be overrun with impactful tourists and we will experience the burgeoning of fronting operations (it is rumored that some hotels are already run by non-national partners) and the inflow of foreign exchange will see dramatic drop, including drastic fall in tax collection, through concealment of income.

Please shelve your self-interests and look at the larger interest of the nation and the long term good of the people of Bhutan. I know that there will always be greedy people trying to spoil the broth – but I also know that well-meaning people still outnumber the greedy spoilers.

Usually I can do a blog article within half an hour – but this article has taken me over three hours to do – every time I touch on the subject of tourism – I am overwhelmed with emotion and my mind goes for a spin. I become paranoid about a wrong decision being made concerning our tourism that ranks as the country’s biggest employer and a net gain industry. A wrong decision on tourism will have all round and serious repercussions on employment, livelihood, environment and cultural and social vitality.

I implore those of you who are in the corridors of power - please exercise caution and restraint and decide wisely - but decide NOW!

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