Staff Reporter

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) launched “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan”, a new project with the beginning of a three-day inception workshop in Trashigang on September 27.

Launched coinciding with World Tourism Day, the project signifies the importance of rebuilding the tourism sector to help kick start recovery and growth following the multidimensional socio-economic impact of Covid-19, a press release from the TCB stated.

With the launch of the project worth USD 4.854 million, the country began the journey to mainstream biodiversity conservation into tourism development and position itself as “a model ecotourism destination”.

The project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with technical support from UNDP, will be implemented as part of the Tourism Flagship Programme over a five-year period.

It will cover two protected areas (PAs) of Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and five districts of Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse and Zhemgang.

Representatives from the dzongkhags, including dzongdags, and officials from various agencies are attending the inception workshop.

“The project covers the eastern and south-central parts of Bhutan, which abound astounding biodiversity and has immense untapped ecotourism potential. The landscape hosts some of the rare and endangered biodiversity species, such as red panda, black-necked crane, golden langur and golden masher,” the press release stated.

As home to Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory, Bhutan’s national butterfly, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in Trashi Yangtse, for instance, has a high potential for butterfly tourism. “The project landscape is a haven for special birds like Wards’s Trogon, Babblers and Pheasants and is already known for being a birding hotspot.”

The press release, however, added that human-wildlife conflict remains a major concern in the area. Ecotourism, it added, will be used as a tool for long-term conservation gains through the management of co-benefits and trade-offs.

The project is expected to bring about transformational changes in the rural development landscape. It is also expected to help diversify the agriculture dominant rural economy by promoting a wildlife-based economy, boosting domestic tourism, creating employment opportunities and increasing community resilience and connection to nature.

High value, end-to-end biodiversity products will be developed to deliver unique, authentic, and quality tourism.

Lhuentse Dzongdag Jambay Wangchuk said the shift in tourism development focus from the west to the east was a welcome change.

“This will go a long way in enhancing the lives and livelihoods of people in the east. What is important is that the efforts of this project must continue well beyond the project period so that it becomes a truly inclusive and transformative effort,” the dzongdag said.

The project will address barriers to establishing ecotourism through enabling national policy environment and institutional coordination, sustainable financing, innovation, and diversification of ecotourism products.

TCB’s Director General, Dorji Dhradhul, said that the project, which is focused on eco-tourism, was about “inclusive growth” in terms of stakeholders. He explained that stakeholders including human beings, wildlife, environment, and cultural landscapes would benefit from the project.

The pandemic has not only impacted the tourism sector badly but also presented an opportunity to reset tourism. As countries gear up to reopen and revive tourism, many are putting in place measures to build a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive tourism economy.

The project will strive to engage local communities, including women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the sustainable production of tourism products and services and ensure its benefits are enjoyed widely and fairly by all of them.

UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said as a world leader in nature conservation and climate action, Bhutan could become “a pioneer in rebuilding tourism for the future”.

“Bhutan’s potential as a nature or eco-tourism destination has not been fully explored. In a world where solitude, pristine environment and clean air have become rare commodities, Bhutan must tap into its ecotourism potential,” she said.

Edited by Tshering Palden