Tourists unable to withdraw money from local ATMs

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While the tourist season for the fall has begun, some tourists and international travelers are busy frequenting the banks, hotels and local handicraft shops with many of them unable to withdraw money from the local AutomatedTeller Machines (ATMs) with their cards.

Many tourists have complained about not being able to withdraw money from the ATMs because the cards that they use are not accepted by the local ATMs.

The Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhual said that the council is aware of this issue and acknowledges the issue.

He said that the TCB has informed the concerned agencies to resolve the issue.

The Executive Director of the Association of Bhutanese Tour operator, Sonam Dorji, said that travelers globally are going cashless; therefore payment gateway facilities like payment through credit card and use of ATMs have been crucial in increasing out of pocket expenses in the destination.

“Although Bank of Bhutan (BoB) has started ATM withdrawal facility for tourists using international debit/credit card, off late we have received incidences of not being able to dispense money through the ATMs,” he said.

According to an official from the Bank of Bhutan (BoB), the cards that tourists use come with chip system facility. The chip system facility is not integrated with the current banking system and it is not available in our banking system.

However, the official said that this service will be introduced next year and it is an ongoing project, which will enable tourists to withdraw money from the ATMs.

Meanwhile, a chip card can be a standard-size plastic debit card or credit card, which contains an embedded microchip as well as a traditional magnetic stripe. The chip encrypts information to increase data security when making transactions at stores, terminals and from the ATMs.

However, Sonam Dorji said that tour operators have been advising tourists to bring cash for out of pocket expenses.

“Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and handicrafts shops; however the commission charges are higher which discourages its usage,” he added.

After unable to withdraw money from the ATMs, some tourists can be seen frequenting and requesting the hotels and local handicraft shops in Thimphu and Paro with POS (Point Of Sale) or “POS machine”. The local hotels and handicraft shops with POS machine help transfers the funds from the tourist’s account to their account with 10% of the total amount as fee.

A shop owner dealing with local handicrafts in Paro said she feels sorry for the tourists who come with such request.

“Even if we want to help, we don’t have much cash in our account. We need cash to keep rolling. Further, the banks take a lot of time in transferring the amount in our account,” she said.

“With the transformation in technology, even our people don’t carry much cash. Even tourists will not carry much cash when they travel. It’s bad that even if tourists want to spend money in our country, they cannot because our ATMs don’t have that facility,” she added.

According to the record compiled by ABTO, presently BoB has facility for two cards – VISA and MasterCard. During 2012 and 2013, there was a transaction of approximately Nu 20mn to 30mn using POS by tourists and very few withdrawals from ATMs.

The report also mentions that the reasons for not being able to use all VISA and MasterCard were due to region and security issue. For example, USA, Latin American and Europe’s VISA or Master Cards are not acceptable unless the tourists have informed their respective countries or banks for transaction in Bhutan and Asia.

As BoB has relation with Asia VISA and MasterCard, the report mentions that BoB is also looking at the possibility of introducing JCB and Amex cards.

As per the report, in 2012-2013, 224 transactions were made by tourists using credit and ATM cards from POS machine and only about 32 transactions were made from ATM machines. Meanwhile, others banks do not have such facility.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu

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