A group of concerned citizens met to share views on Bhutan-Believe, a nation brand that needs to be better understood.  

In the fall of 2022, Bhutan shed three years of the Covid-forced isolation and declared the nation brand – BHUTAN – with the tagline – Believe. In the spirit of a nation undergoing dramatic transformation, Believe is aimed to position the country on a course towards a new era. It is designed as an inspiration to steer the country from the past through the present into the future. 

Since the announcement, on September 23, 2002, Bhutanese and friends of Bhutan, young and old, have been bantering over the concept of Believe… at home, in offices, restaurants, cafes and bars… The conversations add interesting perspectives to the concept. This paper aims to reflect on the discourse and debate and to crystalise the nation brand, in all its deprecation, mysticism, and clarity. 

How does one define a national brand? A designer says that, when he first knew he was coming to Bhutan, he was very excited. He had heard of Bhutan but knew absolutely nothing about the country. Having visited numerous countries around the world, and not experienced the same sensation, he asked himself what was it about Bhutan that excited him? It was something only Bhutan and Bhutanese could explain. 


Today, in Bhutan, Believe is understood as poorly as it is visually pervasive. It marks government stationery, official notices and posters, and is a trendy backdrop for TV studios, but leaves the viewer speculating. Feedback on Believe is mixed and diverse and public discourse on the concept often rings with negativity. 

Why the negativity? There are those who conclude that the announcement was mistimed. It came when the Bhutanese mind was shaken. As we emerged from an excruciating period of the Covid 19 crisis, anticipating socio-economic upturn, changes and new regulations seemed to dampen hopes. The return to the policy of high value low volume tourism was overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement of the US$ 200 sustainable development fee (SDF). 

At the same time the government, public service institutions, and the education system were being reformed. A wave of outward migration combined with changes in the civil service seemed to accelerate a brain-drain and depletion of skills. The situation was changing so much so quickly that Believe was perceived as a forced narrative. 

There is also pushback from a confusion of the target audience. While Bhutan Believe has been misconstrued as a catchphrase for tourists, it is asking Bhutanese to believe in ourselves and our future and Bhutan’s friends to understand Bhutan’s goals and vision. 

It is a natural reaction that people resist change. It is not easy to move away from the familiar – our comfort zone. Tour operators, hoteliers, and guides are the strongest critics of Believe. Besides the initial impact of the SDF, budget hotels, initially encouraged by the governments with incentives, are the loudest protestors of a rule requiring a minimum of three-star standards.

Interestingly there are more people outside the country who appreciate Believe. The Bhutan stall still draws the largest crowds at regional and international promotion events. Besides Bhutan Believe winning international awards in New York and London this month, Bhutanese participants at tourism events have been told that the new brand is modern and visually appealing. Besides reports in international media, travel agents have complimented the new design, images, and logo. 


There is another question, expressed with more than a little concern… is Bhutan Believe replacing Gross National Happiness? For an industry used to a slogan like “happiness is a place” the setback is that the profundity of “Believe” is not easily picked up by the majority. It takes discourse and reflection deeper than daily conversation to connect with the concept. 

There is also the concern among Bhutanese as well as well-wishers that re-focusing values might cause a loss or dilution of what has been an important aspect of the Bhutanese identity. Bhutan initiated the International Day of Happiness at the UN and, even more important, is credited for a higher goal for human development in a GDP-driven world.

As a tagline, Believe has more depth and versatility and carries a thoughtful and poetic, even spiritual, tone. “Happiness is a Place” is inviting skepticism at a time when many Bhutanese are seeking jobs overseas. In international conversation on happiness and global rankings, the Scandinavian countries are credited with greater level of happiness than Bhutan.

But Gross National Happiness (GNH) is, and will remain, the essence of Bhutan’s identity and image. His Majesty once said: “GNH will not change. The way we achieve it will change, depending on the time and circumstances.” Today’s call is to believe this.


BHUTAN is a name we have always been proud of and Believe prompts contemplation on its image:

• Believe in ourselves. Believe in our values. Believe in our worth. Believe in nature. Believe in a just and harmonious society in a style that is uniquely Bhutanese. 

Over the centuries Bhutan’s image evolved into a natural brand, drew the attention of the international community, and earned the respect of global thinkers. In that sense, Bhutan was already a tourism hotspot, a high-end destination for spiritual travellers, and is now a potential for serious investors. 

But we also know that Bhutan is a brand that we are struggling to live up to. Even as we hope to redefine luxury, inadequate toilets, stray dogs, and unmanaged waste are third world problems rather than first world challenges. 

Believe is wholly connected to Bhutan’s vision for the future. It is aspirational and inspirational, a promise to the world and to the Bhutanese people. It is a reminder to believe in what we have and an expression of hope. As a brand, it invites reflection on the perceptions and needs of the times. Its aim is geared to mobilise the government and people and to convey that vision to a global audience.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tsering describes Believe as a means and an end as Bhutan rebrands itself from a least developed to a middle-income country. In the process, we need to believe in our conviction, resilience, and ultimate goal of being a capable country. We know that Bhutanese have huge potential and creativity, but sometimes with more confidence than talent. On one hand, we claim that we are as capable as the best anywhere. On the other, we have not lived up to our potential. And our creative sector (society) has never been high on the government’s priority list. 

There are those who feel that Believe, being both a means and an end, should have been introduced on a national occasion like National Day or His Majesty The King’s birthday. 


In the context of national transformation, the new brand urges Bhutanese to believe in the future. The long distance from a magical Last Shangrila to a miraculous land of artificial intelligence needs to be a short journey. With our system being reformed and society being transformed Believe is not an option; it is the need of the times.

True change means resetting our mindsets and adopting a new work culture and lifestyle. This requires clarity, discipline, stamina, and sacrifice. We learn to believe in a vision that we know is designed for Bhutan. It is the goal for change, evolution, and transformation into a new reality. It is a vision that will not just happen. It is a vision that will be achieved only when we ourselves believe in it. It is a shared consciousness and, therefore, a shared identity.

Believe in damtshig

Adopting a new vision does not mean that we discard old values and traditions. Bhutan steps into a new era of its history with the advantage of age-old nga (resilience). Damtshig encompasses values which have nurtured and shaped Bhutanese thought, identity, as well as the functioning of government and society. 

We remember that the spiritual (and original) definition of damtshig is samaya, the sacred bond between Guru and devotee, and the practitioner’s commitment to the practice. In the Bhutanese system of governance this translated into fidelity between the King and people. 

As the value system that continues to define the Bhutanese identity, young Bhutanese vibe with virtues of integrity, morality, justice, duty, obligation, affection, faith, trust, service, gratitude. Damtshig is one of those terms that defy a direct translation but as an essence of national identity and image and vision it conveys a strong sense of national cohesion. 

The problem, often a snag in Bhutan, is poor communications. Still influenced by the oral tradition, we are not effectively spreading coherence, both in writing as well as in the use of technology. Without a well-planned and transparent information system we have left most people not understanding the message. People in the industry and the public are left with more questions than answers. 

With no specific agency responsible to disseminate Believe, it has been somewhat adhoc in terms of organised communication, particularly for Bhutanese youth. Thus the direct affiliation to tourism. 

The sense of Believe is derived from the Royal vision conveyed in His Majesty’s addresses to the nation and to Bhutanese people over the years but, like many Royal messages of the past, it has been left unimplemented. We acknowledge our problems but do not articulate responses and remedies. 

Bhutan’s history, as recent as the COVID-19 crisis, has proved that the Bhutanese system has the capacity to lead and the will to follow. Desuups, volunteers, farmers and youth joined forces to form an invincible team that achieved amazing results. Under His Majesty’s leadership, task forces, comprising politicians, bureaucrats, military, professionals from all sectors, and the public were proof of our ability to work together.

Edited by 

Dasho Kinley Dorji