Service Provider Question and Answer
Operational clarity for TOUR OPERATORS
1. What will be the role of tour operators in the new system?
1.1. Tour operators will continue to play a key role in Bhutan’s tourism industry. When visiting Bhutan, guests can now decide whether to book their hotels and experiences directly themselves, or to book all or part of their stay via a tour operator. However, any kind of trekking activities should be booked via a tour operator.
1.2. The guests’ choice of tour operators will be determined by the kind of services and products that are provided. Tour operators can also create new products and upgrade their ability to provide high value products and services.
2. Can all the licensed tour operators engage in business in the new system?
2.1. The tour operators must obtain a certificate from TCB based on the new service standards, in order to engage in business.
3. Can anyone organise trekking or camping trips for visitors to Bhutan?
3.1. Visitors can avail trekking services only with the help of service providers (tour operators/guides); however, only TCB-registered tour operators can organise trekking or camping trips for visitors to Bhutan.
4. How can tour operators register on the destination portal (www.bhutan.travel)?
4.1. Tour operators have to submit an online validation/assessment form available on TCB website (www.tourism.gov.bt). Only those tour operators that meet the validation requirements will be approved to register on the destination portal where they can upkeep their business profiles.
5. Can tour operators carry out marketing in the various source markets with their tour packages?
5.1. Yes, absolutely. Tour operators are encouraged to promote their own tour packages internationally to gain visibility and promote their own business. It should be a concerted effort from both TCB and private business firms to promote tourism in Bhutan but the success of tour operators will be entirely dependent on their innovation, quality of service and marketing efforts.
6. Can tour operators apply for visas for visitors and arrange their tours?
6.1. While visitors to Bhutan can directly apply for visas online, tour operators can also apply for visas and arrange tours.
7. How can the tour operators apply for visas or permits?
7.1. Tour operators can apply for online visas or permits through the visa application system of the Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs.
7.2. From 23rd September 2022, the visa application shall be with the Department of Immigration, and the Tashel Online system shall not accept any new visa applications.
8. How can tour operators receive the tour payments?
8.1. Tour operators can receive the tour payments directly in their company’s business account.
9. What are the requirements to become a tour operator?
9.1. Tour operators must be licensed, certified and registered in accordance with the prescribed requirement for licensing, certification and registration as per TRR 2022.
9.2. The license can be obtained from the Ministry of Economic Affairs upon the fulfilment of pre-requisite qualifications as set by TCB.
10. Are there any standards on pricing for tourism packages?
10.1. Besides the standard SDF, there are no standards or pricing system for tour packages. The tour operators can set their own rate.
Questions for operational clarity of GUIDES
11. What are the roles of a guides in the new system?
11.1. The guides will be responsible to ensure the guests enjoy their trip in Bhutan responsibly, guide the guests through the rules and regulations of the country and ensure their safety. The guides will be the main ambassador for Brand Bhutan, so they must display professionalism with utmost integrity and honesty, be well informed and knowledgeable on the subject matters of the country, well-groomed and courteous at all times.
12. What is the requirement to be a guide? How will the number of guides be optimized and certified in the new system?
12.1. The guides must fulfil and abide by the requirements and standards set by TCB as outlined in the Tourism Rules and Regulations.
12.2. The guides will need to be certified by TCB for competence in their role as a guide to provide high value experience. The assessment of competence will be the basis for renewal of license and certification.
13. How can guides promote their services?
13.1. The guides can promote their services through the destination portal, (http://www.bhutan.travel/), other platforms such as social media and websites, and via their own marketing strategies and platforms.
14. Can all guides with valid licenses operate once the tourism reopens?
14.1. The guides who passed the validation test conducted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan will only be allowed to provide tour guide services.
15. How will the competence of guides be assessed in the continual manner?
15.1. The Tourism Council of Bhutan has introduced a progressive competency level of guides in the Tourism Rules and Regulation 2022 who shall be allowed to take up higher responsibilities with the progressive ranking of the guide.
16. How will TCB monitor the code of conduct of guides in the field?
16.1. TCB will conduct vigorous and ad-hoc monitoring and failure to compile shall result in hefty penalties.
17. Are there any requirements of guests to guides ratio?
17.1. The guest to guide ratio is as prescribed in the Tourism Rules and Regulations 2022 categorised as per the competency level of the guide.
18. For trekking guides, will they be trained in life skills and first aid?
18.1. Yes, they will be trained.
Questions for operational clarity of HOTELS and HOMESTAYS
19. What is tourist accommodation?
19.1. Tourist accommodation refers to hotels* that are 3 star and above, and homestays certified by TCB based on the existing Tourist Accommodation Standardization and Classification System.
*Hotels can also include tented accommodation.
20. What are the requirements to be certified as a tourist accommodation?
20.1. The accommodation provider must meet the minimum requirements prescribed in the Tourist Accommodation Standardization and Classification System to be certified as a tourist accommodation. Please refer to the Readiness Assessment for more details.
21. What is the Readiness Assessment?
21.1. The Readiness Assessment is the assessment of guest accommodations introduced prior to the reopening of tourism on September 23, 2022 to assess the readiness to cater to guests. The validation is not a one-time exercise. Service providers may continue to upgrade their services and apply for validation as and when ready. The checklist for Readiness Assessment is available on the official website of TCB (tourism.gov.bt).
22. What type of accommodations can cater to guests after September 23, 2022?
22.1. Only those hotels that have qualified through the readiness assessment will be allowed to cater to guests. Hotels that are not certified, but wish to cater to guests, will need to apply for certification and the readiness assessment. The required documents for certification of the hotels and homestays can be found in the Tourism Rules and Regulations (TRR) 2022.
22.2. The required documents for certification of the hotels that need to be submitted include a trade licence, an occupancy certificate, staff detail, food handling certificate (BAFRA), technical clearance, self-assessment report and pictorial evidence.
22.3. In addition to hotels, certified homestays that have qualified through the Readiness Assessment will also be allowed to cater to the guests. The required documents for certification of home stays are the self-assessment report and pictorial evidence of the home stays.
23. Can the hotels apply for visit visas or permits and arrange tour programs?
23.1. While the guests have the option to directly apply for their own visas or permits, hotels can also apply on their behalf if they so desire. However, hotels cannot arrange tour programs unless they hold valid licences for tour operation.
24. What is a Homestay?
24.1. A homestay is a type of accommodation where the host family provides basic accommodation but clean and comfortable facilities for guests at their home. It is generally located in rural areas or outside the municipal boundary.
24.2. The homestays are promoted with the aim to:
○ Provide accommodation for guests in accommodation deficient areas;
○ Provide opportunities for guests to stay with host families and experience authentic Bhutanese lifestyle;
○ Supplement the income of the host family and improve their livelihood;
○ Preserve and promote our traditional culture; and
○ Strengthen community-based tourism.
25. What are the requirements to be registered as Homestays?
25.1. Be located in rural areas or outside the municipal boundary;
25.2. Be managed by the host family with a minimum of two immediate family members living in the same house;
25.3. Be in a traditional building or house, and conform to the architecture of the locality;
25.4. Not use more than five rooms for guests consisting of 10 beds in all, and a maximum of 2 beds in each guest room;
25.5. Be owned by a Bhutanese citizen;
25.6. Fulfil the requirements and standards as prescribed by TCB in the Homestay Assessment Checklist;
25.7. Not be leased out.
26. How can the accommodation service providers register on the destination portal (http://www.bhutan.travel/)?
26.1. Certified hotels that have qualified through readiness assessment should submit an online form available on TCB website (www.tourism.gov.bt) to register on the destination portal. Homestays at the moment are not registered on the destination portal, however, such provisions for homestays will be explored in the future.
27. Do hotels, tour operators and service providers need an FC account?
27.1. It is not mandatory for hotels, tour operators and service providers to have an FC account as the guests can directly transfer payments into their Ngultrum account. However, it is recommended to have an FC account.
28. Is there a grace period for accommodation providers to meet the minimum requirements for guest accommodation?
28.1. No grace period is given for the accommodation provider to meet the requirements prescribed for hotels or home stays. However, accommodation providers can continue to upgrade their standards and apply to TCB for assessment and certification when ready.
29. Can hotels take upfront payment from guests for bookings?
29.1. Yes, however it is as per the internal policy of the hotels.
30. Can taxis cater to guests?
30.1. Yes, taxis can cater to guests.
*The service providers can refer to the Tourism Rules and Regulations 2022 for more clarity
*These guidelines can be updated if required in the future without advance notice.