Tour op­er­a­tors am­biva­lent about friend­ship of­fers

Business Bhutan - - Front Page - Dechen Dolkar from Thim­phu

Tour op­er­a­tors are am­biva­lent about the spe­cial friend­ship of­fers that the gov­ern­ment has ini­ti­ated dur­ing the lean sea­son in June, July and Au­gust.

So far, the gov­ern­ment has ini­ti­ated four friend­ship of­fers to four coun­tries, Thailand, Ja­pan and Korea in­clud­ing Aus­tralia this year.

The spokesper­son of the Tourism Coun­cil of Bhutan (TCB), Dam­cho Rinzin said that the spe­cial of­fers are made by the gov­ern­ment to pro­mote peo­ple to peo­ple con­tact be­tween two coun­tries and to strengthen bi­lat­eral ties through tourism and travel.

The first friend­ship of­fer was made to Thailand in 2014 to mark the 25 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions and the long-stand­ing friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. For the three months’ of­fer pe­riod, around 8,735 Thai tourists vis­ited the coun­try. The high­est num­ber of tourists vis­ited in the month of Au­gust with 5,076.

How­ever, in the pre­vi­ous year in 2013, only 726 tourists vis­ited the coun­try in the month of June, July and Au­gust.

In 2016, a spe­cial of­fer was made to Ja­pan to mark 30 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions. Dur­ing the of­fer pe­riod, around 3,346 Ja­pa­nese tourists vis­ited the coun­try. In 2015, only about 617 tourists vis­ited the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to TCB, a to­tal of around US$ 1mn was col­lected as roy­alty and visa fees dur­ing the of­fer.

In 2017, the of­fer was given to Korea to mark three decades of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions. Dur­ing the of­fer pe­riod around 5,085 Korean tourists vis­ited the coun­try. In 2016, dur­ing the same pe­riod, only 309 tourists vis­ited the coun­try.

How­ever, some tour op­er­a­tors who wanted to re­main anony­mous said that the gov­ern­ment needs to de­cide if they re­ally want to stick by its so called high­value low- im­pact.

“If it’s what they want then they should stop tam­per­ing with the tourism tar­iff,” said one.

An­other said that the gov­ern­ment needs to re­al­ize that when one starts break­ing down the daily tar­iff then the agents abroad un­der­stands the ac­tual cost and starts ask­ing for break­downs in the fu­ture which was not al­lowed ear­lier.

“One side you pro­mote Bhutan as a high-end des­ti­na­tion and on the other hand you make spe­cial of­fers, try­ing to play with the fig­ures only with­out any added value; it kills the mar­ket,” said one tour agent, “There is a need to check the sit­u­a­tion with the offshore agents and study im­pact of such friend­ship of­fers in the mar­ket.”

He said the un­der­cut­ting by tour op­er­a­tors has hap­pened with Thailand and Ja­pan and will hap­pen with Korea, too.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the agents abroad start break­ing down the cost and there is where un­der­cut­ting start.

How­ever, the di­rec­tor of Etho Metho Tours and Treks pri­vate lim­ited, T. San­gay Wangchuk, said that tourism is a na­tional re­source and many stake­hold­ers other than tour op­er­a­tors may be im­pacted well.

He said that it will have far-reach­ing ben­e­fits to other stake­hold­ers such as gov­ern­ment rev­enue, air­lines, ho­tels and hand­i­crafts.

He said th­ese of­fers were dur­ing the lean sea­son there­fore the im­pact is pos­i­tive as th­ese months were lit­er­ally dry in the ab­sence of such strate­gies.

He also said in term of suit­abil­ity, in his 28 years of ser­vice in tourism, the gov­ern­ment tried many mech­a­nisms to solve the lean sea­son is­sues and friend­ship of­fers did solve this per­ti­nent lean sea­son is­sue.

In tourism there are many cat­e­gories of trav­el­ers: some plan based on their hol­i­day pat­tern some on sea­sons and some on bud­get. The friend­ship of­fer ini­tia­tive brought in many who took ad­van­tage of pric­ing over other fac­tors, he added.

Asked if such ini­tia­tives do not un­der­mine the high­value low im­pact pol­icy, he said it will not.

“When tourism was in the de­vel­op­ment stages, min­i­mum fixed tar­iff played a vi­tal role in ed­u­cat­ing tourism stake­hold­ers. All tourism re­lated pric­ing then was based on the fixed tar­iff. Now the in­dus­try is fast de­vel­op­ing and we re­quire cre­ative po­lices to mon­i­tor tourism busi­ness that will still live up the high-value low im­pact pol­icy,” said T. San­gay Wangchuk.

Sim­i­larly, he said the word un­der­cut­ting in tourism is sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. “It is all sub­ject to who can present one’s ar­gu­ment well. The cure to the so called un­der­cut­ting is prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. We must in­sist on stan­dard prod­ucts. When we say prod­ucts, it must be in form of in­fra­struc­tures, food and ac­com­mo­da­tion, hu­man re­source, sus­tain­able use of our tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble her­itages and over all de­vel­op­ing tourism not just for vis­i­tors. Once we have stan­dard tourism prod­ucts, any­thing we see as neg­a­tive will blend to some­thing pos­i­tive.”

Mean­while, Dam­cho Rinzin said that all the friend­ship of­fers brought in many tourists so it is ef­fec­tive in terms of at­tract­ing tourists. It also en­cour­ages sin­gle and group of two be­cause sur­charge of US$40 per one per­son and US$30 each for group of two are ex­empted.

He said it will not un­der­mine the high-value low-im­pact pol­icy since tourists com­ing un­der such friend­ship of­fers will have to come un­der the same tourism ar­range­ment like stay in a TCB cer­ti­fied tourist ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­i­ties, pay the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Fee (SDF), pay visa fees and must use a li­censed guide.

The of­fer al­lows flex­i­bil­ity in choice of ser­vices and get a bet­ter deal with spe­cial of­fers from ho­tels and the air­lines, he added.

Mean­while, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bhutanese Tour Op­er­a­tors re­fused to com­ment on the is­sue.

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