Yesterday I attended an informal briefing by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on the changes to tourism policy that are being proposed by the government. The Honorable Prime Minister was present, including the Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and Dasho Kinley Dorji and two Committee Members of, what I am told - the Transformation Office – on the government side.
Other participants were from the social media.
The Meeting was not informed in what role or capacity Dasho Kinley Dorji was present in the gathering.
What was revealing for me is that the committee that is working on revolutionizing Bhutan’s tourism industry is called “Transformation” office. Things are now beginning to fall into place – the rumored changes that are proposed are becoming less incredulous.
The government is apparently working on total transformation of the tourism industry – not just reforming it. It now makes sense why there is complete about-face. The old tree is proposed to be uprooted and cast away – making way for the plantation of a new and robust sapling, in its place.
Alas! The government seems to fail to grasp that the plantation is being initiated during a period of severe drought!
For a democratic government, the process has not at all been democratic. At some point the government has to stop this top-down approach – they need to adopt governance through consensus building. Their sin is that they did not consult the industry players. If their idea fails, their only excuse will be that they did it with the interest of the country at heart – that their intensions were good and honorable.
The problem with good intensions is that its pathway is strewn with dead bodies.
His Excellency the Prime Minister honored me by inviting me to initiate the discussions.
I submitted that I speak on my own behalf and that of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) – of which I am a Member. I submitted that the government has the right and the authority to bring in any and all changes as it sees fit. However, given the nature of tourism business, I pleaded with the government to defer the implementation of the proposed changes to a more appropriate time. The reasons I offered are that:
a. Tourism business does not happen overnight – it is conducted over months and years. Negotiations and deals are closed many months before the travel date. Deals are negotiated based on standing rules and provisions. Unannounced changes and implementing them suddenly will cause chaos in the industry. Thus I urged the government to allow the industry to make course corrections and readjustments - by giving it enough time before the changes are enforced.
b. The deferment of the implementation of the proposed changes will allow the tour operators and their foreign agents to stand-by and fulfill their commitments already made based on the standing rules. Even better, the deferment period from now to the time of implementation will allow us to test if the proposed changes and way of doing things are working and feasible. If not, we have the time and the opportunity to make changes and tweak the proposed system - so that finally we have a good working system in place.
Enforcing a new model of doing things to an ongoing business is a total bad idea - particularly given how tourism business is conducted.
I am all admiration for the DNT government - for their courage in dismantling a number of evils that had percolated into the system. Politicians have the reputation of playing to the masses - but the DNT has dared do things that are meaningful and courageous. However, at times it is necessary to confine courage and valor to the battlefields – we are not in a warlike situation. We are talking of sensible and good governance.
Differing the implementation of the proposed changes by few months will not cause any misery - it will in fact make the transition much more smoother with lesser casualty along the way. I am not opposing the changes – merely that its implementation should be consequential and less painful.
The government and the Parliamentarians have to bear in mind that the citizens believe that changes are proposed to improve things - not to cause disruption and death to an industry that has served the Bhutanese community for the past close to half a century.