Tour operators and cabbies lose out to Indian counterparts
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.