Residential properties like buildings, apartments and bungalows are being operated as tourist accommodation and catering tourist services in the country.
However, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) maintained that operating unlicensed accommodation for tourists is illegal.
Most of these accommodations are listed on online travel booking sites called Airbnb which is used globally.
Airbnb is an online marketplace that connects people who want to rent out their homes with people who are looking for accommodation in the locality.
As of now there are around 230 residential apartments catering tourist services in the country and this is rampant in Thimphu and Paro. Thimphu alone has around 200 residential apartments.
The President of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB), Sonam Wangchuk, said that such illegal businesses are rampant in the country and residential apartments are offered at cheap price to tourists.
“It is directly affecting the standard hotels and occupancy rate for tourist hotels is declining,” said the President of HRAB, adding that residential apartments charge around Nu 3,000 per night for the whole apartment.
He said that it is against the high value low impact policy. “These residential properties charge cheaper price since they don’t have to pay taxes and don’t have to pay employees.”
TCB meanwhile has issued a notification stating that renting private properties is illegal and any property catering to tourists must be licensed. Non-compliance with this notification will be dealt as per the prevailing laws and regulations of the Kingdom.
TCB also mentioned that it is working on the revision of classification and certification for tourist accommodation. For now, the existing classification and certification will continue to apply.
As per the tourism policy, tourists are allowed to stay only at TCB certified accommodation, which is three stars and above hotels and homestays in rural areas.
The Director General of TCB, Dorji Dhradhul, said that residential properties that are unlicensed and uncertified by TCB catering to tourists’ accommodation are illegal.
“These residential proprieties are not monitored and security and safety of the tourists is not ensured,” said the Director General.
After issuing the notification, TCB received expression of interest from residential proprieties wanting certification from TCB to operate as tourist accommodation.
However, the Director General said that TCB cannot certify residential properties because they do not meet the standard for certification and they do not have facilities to certify.
He also mentioned that residential properties cannot be certified as homestays because homestays should be outside the municipal area.
TCB has also written to Airbnb through email that while going through the list of accommodations in Bhutan that are currently hosted on Airbnb, many of them were not approved by TCB.
TCB is concerned that this would negatively impact safety, security and service standards, which in turn would undermine the experience of visitors and image of being an exclusive tourist destination.
TCB also stated that to curtail the operation of unauthorized accommodation services and the challenges arising from such accommodations, it proposed to Airbnb that the required accommodation providers from Bhutan should apply for registration and get a recommendation letter from TCB.
TCB also requested Airbnb to consider delisting if the accommodation providers failed to submit a recommendation letter from the TCB.
TCB is yet to receive a response from Airbnb.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu