In preparation for tourism reopening, guides are gearing up for the tourism reopening, some are revising iconography and Buddhism studies, visiting monasteries and also going for hikes to square the inactive years.
Trekking guides are assisting local tour operators for domestic tours, and this way, they say is a way to reconcile with their past experiences, which have been inactive for the past few years.
33-year-old Dorji, a trekking and cultural tour guide, says that most of his weekend outing includes visiting monasteries. “Apart from basic iconography knowledge, I seem to have forgotten smaller details, and some monasteries have undergone a major renovation, so I made it a point to make local monasteries a weekend getaway to refresh my memory.”
He also added that he has been reading voraciously, and picking up about the country’s local flora and fauna. According to him, he says it is not enough to have just one or two expertise in this area. “As a tour guide, tourists will expect us to know everything about Bhutan, so I am trying my hands at flora and fauna too.”
Dorji is also a trainer at tourist guide training institutes. He is also of the opinion that the government’s new tourism policy is aptly revised and he expects high-end tourists to visit the country. However, he said that the government must beef up to develop good amenities for the tourists and focus on developing grassroots destinations. “We will do our part, we will offer high-end services,” he added.
Many of the guides had undergone refresher courses conducted by the Guide Association of Bhutan, and they have also undergone Advance Tour Guide Course by De-Suung Skilling Program.
Tsheten Dorji, a 37-year-old cultural guide who is currently guiding My Bhutan’s Singaporean guests, said that he had undergone several refresher courses, and he is the first batch trainee of the Advance Tour Guide Course of the De-Suung Skilling Program. He has been guiding since 2006. “Without such courses, one would surely be lost,” Tsheten said.
He added that ‘even with immense knowledge of the field, one needs to prepare adequately as we are the ambassadors of our country, and we need to be our best’.
He also opined that the tourism policy is good news for him as it will not only bring high-end tourists to the country, but it will also immensely benefit the country with the revenue generated from tourism activities. “This new policy will bring greater good to the country,” he added.
Tsheten Dorji also underwent a Nature Guide course at Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research in Bumthang for 50 days in 2020. He is a second batch trainee, and it is a National Certification 2 course.
Another 34-year-old trekking guide, Namgay Rinchen said that he has been assisting tour operators catering to domestic clients. “It’s been a few years and I have totally lost the connection. I will soon opt for a refresher course,” said Namgay Rinchen.
He added that there have been so many changes in the tourism policy, and guides are required to undergo various specialization training. He hopes that all these activities will not just professionalize the tour guide profession but also make the profession an attractive profession for the youths aspiring to become tour guides in the future.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Council of Bhutan is planning to introduce various specialization programmes apart from the usual tour guide certification course for tour guides.
Additionally, the apex body of tourism also plans to regularize a set fee for tour guides.
Some senior guides in the country said that the initiative of the Tourism Council of Bhutan is mandatory.
One of the leading senior tour guides said: “Many may think touring guests is just about speaking and a whole lot of travelling, it is a complex job,” he said.
He also added that they meet people with varying questions, and it is the responsibility of the guide to responding efficiently and effectively. “Everything is on the internet, and one cannot rely on bluffs. So, it is important to train tourist guides thoroughly,” he said.
In an earlier release, the Tourism Council of Bhutan stated that the standards and certification process for service providers, including hotels, guides, tour operators, and drivers, as well as other businesses such as handicraft shops will be revised. The new requirements will be more robust and ensure a minimum quality standard across the tourism sector. Persons employed in the industry will be required to undergo skills training where necessary. Government support will be provided for infrastructure upgrades.
According to the revised tourism policy, it is optional to book through a tour operator, however, tourists must hire a tour guide for all kinds of tours in the country.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan slated the date for tourism reopening as September 23.