Thursday, June 23, 2022

Tourism Industry’s Swan Song

Yesterday a little before 4PM, some Members of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) had an opportunity to make a submission to some select Members of the Parliament. We were honored by the opportunity to make a last ditch pitch for understanding and patience.

We emphasized to the Honorable Members of the National Assembly’s Economic and Finance Committee that we are the only group that does not represent any sectorial interest – that we are a neutral body solely focused on sustainable development of tourism in this country.

The Honorable Members of the Parliaments's Economic & Finance Committee. Our group urged them to ensure that if history is being attempted to be re-written, the responsibility falls squarely on them - to attempt to craft a history with intergenerational benefit. This Committee has a weighty responsibility because they have heard all the wailings of the industry players and stakeholders.

Of over few thousand words said on the issue of the introduction of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 – the central message we conveyed was that the tourism industry is not in opposition of the proposed Bill – but that it is ill-timed and its implementation is too hasty. 

We requested that the implementation of the Bill may be deferred by atleast a year and, if that is not possible, until the Parliament’s Winter Session, so that the industry has the time to make adjustments and tie-up loose ends spilling over from the past regime. It is our belief that this request is not unreasonable. In fact it will contribute to the seamless migration from the old to new ways of doing things.

For the history books - the group that attempted to write a good history. Recognizing that the day was historical, we posed for a photoshoot after the consultation with the Parliamentarians. It is not in our hands to alter history - but each of us has the responsibility to try and direct the course of history on the correct path.

Included in the photo are Members of the Handicraft Association of Bhutan (HAB) who were also present in the Meeting with the Parliamentarians. They too emphasised that the passage of the Bill will impact thousand of families and businesses engaged in the production and sale of handicrafts.

In conclusion the Chair of the Committee thanked us for our passionate engagement in the discourse, while agreeing that our request too was in line with those of other industry players and stakeholders, central to which was the request to defer the implementation of the Bill.

The BSTS Members delivered the tourism industry’s swan song yesterday evening – an occasion for the history books. Whichever way the Levy Bill goes, we stand indemnified that we tried our best, that we have done our citizen's duty – in the interest of the country and the people of Bhutan. 

Some tell us that it is a foregone conclusion – that the Bill will pass. But it has not yet been passed, and we are still hopeful that sanity would prevail. We will keep up our hopes until the end.

We have exhausted all avenues – we have spoken all there is to speak. We have, for the sake of posterity and so that history will bear witness, emphasized on the following:

1.  The industry players and stakeholders have not been consulted on a matter that will impact them
     the most.

2.  That by the nature of the business, the industry needs lead-time before new policies can come
      into play.

3.  That the industry is not in opposition to the proposed Bill but is in fact supportive of it.

4.  That the industry needs time to tie up loose ends from the past regime before it can migrate
      to a new way of doing things.

5.  That the government and the TCB are not ready for a seamless migration to a new way of doing business
      – that there will be massive operational difficulties as a consequence of moving too fast too soon.
      That it will disrupt the functioning of the industry.

6.  That not enough study has been done to justify such terrifying  about-turn in policy.

7.  That before the new policy is put in place – vigorous consultations is called for, which has not happened.

The government is unyielding that they have the right to the inscription of the industry’s epitaph. To be fair, there is absolutely no doubt that they can do so – the people of Bhutan have bestowed that right on them. But they have to bear in mind that they have not been empowered to make all the wrong decisions. It was with the belief that they have the potential to make all the right decisions, that the people of Bhutan have elected them into power. All the good work they have done so far during the pandemic will come to naught, if they cannot desist from being IMPATIENT over a matter that has the potential to imperil the country and the people of Bhutan.

Please exercise PATIENCE – there is too much at stake. Like Karma Tshering (PhD) asked in his Kuensel article:

Is there a crisis? ..... or are we creating a crisis?

For the record, he is the only person in the country who has a Doctoral Degree in Sustainable Tourism.

Apply science – not emotion!


  1. When people behind the policy believe “ The regulated cannot be regulator”, fat chance of those with privileged with being regulator to even listen to different opinions and feed back. It appears to be totally top down approach, with decision actually taken by those who have no direct accountability: poor government and parliamentarians!

  2. The bad taste is that advocates of the proposal behave as if tour operators are the real bad guys. Yes like any other industry, there were problems which needed to be addressed but not in such a manner that throws the industry topsy turvy.
    Anyway, hope for the best.