The Department of Tourism (DoT) is trying hard to promote Bhutan with several marketing strategies. The increasing awareness in media, engagement with international travel agents, webinars, travel and trade events, advertisements, and digital marketing campaigns may work, but what matters most is the reality.

Nearly six decades after Bhutan opened up to tourism, some of our issues are as old as the industry. It is not about the lack of luxurious hotels or star-rated services. Tourists know Bhutan and they prepare their visit to Bhutan. Basic amenities are taken for granted.  For an average tourist, basics means running water, clean toilets, or peaceful nights.

Unfortunately, after revising the sustainable development fee, not much has changed. Those in the tourism sector may be promoting Bhutan as a unique destination, but we lack basic facilities like a place to answer nature’s call in total privacy.

After years of planning and preparing for a revised tourism policy, we have neglected the basic infrastructure. The most common complaint from tourists is a lack of basics. Beyond that, there are issues that can be easily resolved. For instance, one common complaint among tourists who visited Bhutan in the 1990s was the barking dogs that kept them awake the whole night. It is still one of the common complaints even today.

There is a renewed focus on promoting Bhutan as a different tourist destination. We may not have white sandy beaches or ski resorts to attract tourists, but we are still on the bucket list of many tourists. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the tourism and allied industry. As we prepare to entice tourists curious about high-end Bhutan, we could do more.

The only thing that is high, many say, is USD 200 a day. Not much has changed since the much-touted revised policy. The tourism department alone cannot achieve everything. If tourists are complaining of waste, lack of infrastructure, or barking dogs, our agencies should get together to resolve this. Tourists are shocked when our duty-free outlets cannot accept credit cards.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the tourism policy is to let the benefit of tourism trickle down to the people and not just a few tour operators or hoteliers. How much are our people benefiting from the revised policy? The benefits should go beyond a few shops selling wooden phalluses or artifacts imported from the streets of Nepal or Delhi. Not all may open homestays or sell yak products. But a proper mule track or a paved road to a once remote place could mean a villager reaping the benefits of tourism.

The tourism department alone will not be able to make changes. If we are to be seen as a champion of the environment, we need other agencies to take care of the mounting garbage or littering, if we are to project as a high-end destination, we need basic facilities in place.  Asking tourists to relieve themselves in nature may have been a unique experience in the past, but it could irritate them now.

The bottom line is we should have basic necessities in place even before we promote ourselves as a high-end destination. The best marketing is the experience of tourists who visit Bhutan and share the experience. Do we have the basics to let them share a good experience?