The Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) move to increase the tariff for tourists entering the country from US$200 to 250 beginning next year has been welcomed by the Bhutanese tour operators.
The revision is to help tour operators deal better with inflation, said an official from the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO).
“Looking at the inflationary nature of the economy and also the devaluation of the dollar in the last few months, the increase in tariff was necessary,” said the general manager of Etho Meto Tours and Treks, Sangay Wangchuk.
However, in the decision taken by the TCB board during its 4th meeting held on June 16, the revised tariff will be applicable only during the peak seasons.
It will remain at US$200 for lean season months and all other discount, surcharge, royalty etc. will remain the same, said an official.
“It is a good move. Now, the tour operators will be able to combat inflation better,” said the proprietor of Diethelm Tours and Travels, Daychen Penjor.
Another tour operator said her travel agency incurred a huge loss amounting to millions because of the dollar fluctuation and the subsequent increase in price of services.
“In the process, there is rampant undercutting prevalent today amongst tour operators to attract tourists,” she said. “With the increase in tariff, undercutting might reduce.”
According to an ABTO official, there are more than 300 tour operators in the country and only a few manage to do good business.
“Undercutting is usually done by tour operators who own hotels and have their own fleet of transportation,” said the official.
In order to garner more business, tour operators reduce the tariff rates and this affects everyone. The government has to take measures to prevent undercutting, said Sangay Wangchuk.
Meanwhile, some tour operators feel the increase in tariff might hamper their business as bookings by tourists for the peak season next year have already been done in the prevalent rate.
“There might be a lot of cancellations when we inform our agents about the tariff increase,” said a tour operator, adding tourists already find Bhutan an expensive destination.
So far, more than 113,000 tourists have visited Bhutan since 1984, the selling point being the country’s ‘unique culture’.
Most tour operators feel the increase in tariff will not affect the influx of tourists as aggressive marketing has helped create bigger publicity for Bhutan internationally. “Unlike budget tourists (backpackers) in other countries, Bhutan has altogether a different product to sell,” said one.
“Tour operators while doing the bookings should mention that rates are subject to change to avoid problems,” said an official.
Small tour operators, whose profits are greatly slashed when they have to shift their guests to hotels like Uma and Aman during the peak season because of an accommodation crunch, feel the revised tariff will come as a relief.
“We won’t feel the pinch as much,” said Kesang, who runs a travel agency.