Tour op­er­a­tors and cab­bies lose out to In­dian coun­ter­parts

Business Bhutan - - BUSINESS - Kr­ishna Ghal­ley from Phuentshol­ing

The cur­rent ris­ing trend of re­gional tourists vis­it­ing the coun­try has raised con­cerns for Bhutanese tour op­er­a­tors and lo­cal taxi driv­ers be­cause they are los­ing out on busi­ness.

Re­gional tourists come through In­dian travel agents, which process passes from the De­part­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion (DoI) and use In­dian taxis while trav­el­ling in the coun­try.

Also these tourists rarely use Bhutanese tour guides dur­ing their tours.

“In­dian driv­ers earn the most from these re­gional tourists, some­times up to Nu 30,000 per pax trav­el­ing to Thim­phu, Paro and Pu­nakha,” a tour guide Sonam Wangdi said.

They also earn more than Nu 1,000 a day from hote­liers and the shop­keep­ers as com­mis­sions for help­ing them for food­ing and lodg­ing ser­vices. They are also paid cer­tain amount as com­mis­sion by ho­tels on the way.

“If we did that, it would boost the coun­try’s rev­enue,” said Sonam Wangdi.

Dorji Wangchuk, a taxi driver, said that some In­dian taxis reach Paro air­port to re­ceive guests, tours the en­tire pack­age, drops the tourists off and re­turns to Phuentshol­ing. He also said the govern­ment needs to look into the mat­ter and im­pose re­stric­tions.

“The au­thor­i­ties have stopped mon­i­tor­ing the in­flow of In­dian ve­hi­cles do­ing lo­cal busi­ness in Phuentshol­ing which are not even taxis but with us they are very strict,” said an­other taxi driver, Tashi.

Dorji Wangchuk has re­mained with­out work for a week in Phuentshol­ing. “We don’t get pas­sen­gers for long tours and to make mat­ters worse, In­dian ve­hi­cles have cap­tured the mar­ket in Phuentshol­ing for lo­cal ser­vices. It is be­com­ing dif­fi­cult to sur­vive,” he said.

A lo­cal travel agent un­der anonymity said that if the govern­ment con­trols the in­flow of In­dian ve­hi­cles and al­lows Bhutanese taxis to ply, re­gional tourists would be com­pelled to hire tour guides who would also find em­ploy­ment.

Many travel agents and taxi driv­ers said the un­con­trolled traf­fic of In­dian ve­hi­cles on the roads poses threats to the en­vi­ron­ment and cul­ture as well.

In­dian travel agents and driv­ers charge com­par­a­tively less than their Bhutanese coun­ter­parts. While a Bhutanese taxi charges up to Nu 650 per head they charge less than that for the whole pack­age.

But Bhutanese taxi driv­ers said they have to pay taxes to the govern­ment and some have to re­pay ve­hi­cle loans from the earn­ing.

The pro­pri­etor of Trou­vaille Tours and Treks, Oma Mon­gar said that since In­dian tourists en­ter through In­dian travel agents the DoI should con­trol this trend by not en­ter­tain­ing these agents.

“That way we will have an op­por­tu­nity to earn INR.”

Travel agents pay Nu 13,000 an­nu­ally as li­cense re­newal fee to the Tourism Coun­cil of Bhutan.

Com­pris­ing 51% of the to­tal tourist ar­rivals, In­dia is the sin­gle largest tourist mar­ket for Bhutan in terms of num­ber.

More than 3,000 re­gional tourists visit the coun­try daily dur­ing the peak sea­son and hun­dreds dur­ing the off-sea­son.

Mean­while, an of­fi­cial from Phuentshol­ing’s Re­gional Road Safety and Trans­port Au­thor­ity ac­cepted the fact that there is no par­tic­u­lar mech­a­nism to make a move to con­trol the en­try of the ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing In­dian tourists.

With the avail­abil­ity of sub­si­dized fuel sup­ply, the op­tion left for Bhutanese taxis is to lower the fare to com­pete with In­dian ve­hi­cles so that tourists pre­fer to use Bhutanese ve­hi­cles. “Bhutanese try to earn a lot overnight. It’s bet­ter to earn less than not to earn at all,” he said.

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