Guwahati: In a bid to boost tourism in the country once the COVID 19 pandemic subsides, the Bhutan government has decided to set up two integrated check post facilities in Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar. Both these locations are adjoining to Assam borders.
This was identified in the government’s Economic Contingency Plan (ECP). Presently, Phuentsogling and Paro are the only two tourist entry points in Bhutan.
The need for entry points besides Paro and Phuentsholing had been debated in the past with the National Assembly in January 2019 endorsing a motion to allow entry and exit of regional tourists through the border towns of Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nganglam and Panbang.
Besides opening new entry points, the government and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) would also study the readiness of the sector to implement the much-debated sustainable development fee (SDF).
As per the ECP document, in preparation to reopen the sector, implementation modality for the SDF for regional tourists is being finalised. An interim standard operating protocol (SOP) for SDF has also been drafted and would come into operation until the full guideline for management of regional tourism is rolled-out as part of the national tourism policy.
To improve service delivery in the sector, TCB would build an integrated system of online VISA processing, bookings, information sharing and payments. Once the integration is achieved, possible undercutting and tax evasion issues are also likely to be solved.
Official sources said that the move to set up the new entry points was in preparation for the re-opening of the sector once the pandemic subsides and also to take advantage of the favourable weather conditions in the southern foothills during winter.
As per the Bhutan Tourism Monitor, 2018, around 35 percent of the international tourists who visited Bhutan in 2018 cited the country’s favourable weather condition as the primary reason for their visit.
However, Bhutan saw more than 2,400 cancellations of VISA after the onset of Covid-19 in March and the closure of hotels and allied businesses catering to the sector.
The tourism sector started bearing the impact of the pandemic as early as November last year with cancellation of several travel plans. As per the Budget Report 2020, revenue from the tourism sector declined by 41 per cent in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019.
Bhutan has recorded at least 80 cases out of which 54 has already recovered. No casualty was recorded yet.