Come December, every tourist guide renewing their licence will have to sit for a mandatory drug test. The guides are required to renew their licence between December and February each year.
The drug-free certificate will be a mandatory document for issuance and renewal of the license.
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) submitted its standard operating procedure (SoP) for drug testing of tourism service providers to the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) for endorsement last week.
TCB officials said this was to ensure a healthier, safer and productive tourism industry free of drug abuse. Last year, over 4,000 tourist guides renewed their licenses.
TCB would issue a notification on the drug test once BNCA endorses the SoP. It will collaborate with BNCA to carry out the drug tests.
Tourism officer with the quality assurance division, Karma Tenzin said the drug test is not to punish those with controlled substance use issues but to help them in getting appropriate treatment services.
“If they are found to have abused any controlled substance they would be given more than one chance to correct themselves,” he said.
Those who test positive will be referred to the treatment assessment panel (TAP) of BNCA for treatment. Their license, which will be suspended during the time of the treatment will be issued after completing the treatment.
However, those who test positive once will undergo tests frequently.
According to Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018, the offence of substance abuse for the first time is liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than three months if the TAP assessed the person as addicted. Otherwise, the individual will undergo counselling for a month.
Repeat offenders, as per the Act, have to serve counselling and treatment for longer period.
Karma Tenzin said it is not possible to carry out the drug test for all tourism service providers together at once which is why they are starting with the tourist guides including the rafting guides.
This, he said, was because the guides are crucial players in the tourism industry. “Moreover, if we look at the nature of their job, they are more vulnerable.”
There are over 20,000 tourism service providers and the drug test for other service providers will be initiated depending on the readiness for such mass drug testing.
To set an example, all other TCB officials would be tested for controlled substances before the guides.
“We will have a system or criteria for the random drug testing,” he said. The council would test guides who are suspected of abusing the controlled substances.
Individual guides have to pay for the testing kit which would cost around Nu 300.
TCB officials said the initiative is to help the nation curb the drug abuse issues.
“Tourism is an important sector and next to hydropower in revenue generation so we want quality guides. In fact, by starting with the tourist guides, it shows how important our guides are for the tourism sector.”