Dechen Dolkar

Bhutan will celebrate the golden jubilee of tourism for the next six months, from June 2 to December 17 this year.

This year marks the golden jubilee since Bhutan opened its doors to the world in 1974. 

The Department of Tourism (DoT) launched the campaign commemorating this milestone yesterday in the Buddha Dordenma statue at Kuensel Phodrang in Thimphu.

Bhutan’s tourism journey began in 1974, coinciding with the coronation of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. 

From the beginning, Bhutan embraced the “high value, low volume” policy and has remained committed to sustainable tourism long before it became a global trend. This approach aimed to generate revenue from tourism while sharing Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage with the world, ensuring a balanced and mindful development of its tourism sector.

The first group of tourists to Bhutan consisted of eight Americans, five Spaniards, and one Argentinian, who undertook a long and arduous journey by road, as Bhutan did not have an airline then. 

Like these pioneering 14 visitors, the allure and unique charm of the Himalayan kingdom drew hundreds of more guests. However, it was not until 1983, with the launch of Bhutan’s national airline, Drukair, that tourism flourished, making travel to and from Bhutan significantly easier.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the government was immensely proud to celebrate 50 years of tourism.

“This milestone is a celebration of what has been achieved since Bhutan opened its doors to the world, establishing itself as a unique, transformative, and sustainable destination,” he said. “As we honour the past five decades, we also look forward to a future where sustainable tourism continues to enrich our nation and connect us with the world. Join us to celebrate this important milestone.”

The minister for industry, commerce and employment, Namgyal Dorji, said that Bhutan’s journey from welcoming the first tourists in 1974 to becoming a globally admired destination is remarkable.

He said that this celebration is a tribute to all guests who have visited Bhutan and everyone who has contributed to the country’s tourism sector.

“As experienced by the first 14 guests, Bhutan continues to enchant visitors with its breathtaking natural beauty, rich and immersive culture, strong spiritual offerings, and excellent guest experience,” Lyonpo said, adding that equally captivating is the warm welcome and genuine hospitality of the Bhutanese people.

Lyonpo Namgyal Dorji said that as the only country that incorporates happiness as a development philosophy and one of the three carbon-negative countries in the world, Bhutan truly offers a unique and enriching experience for every traveller.

To commemorate the golden jubilee of tourism, the DoT, in collaboration with other stakeholders and the private sector, will run a series of activities throughout the campaign period, such as Bhutan’s first-ever tourism awards in August, which will celebrate excellence and innovation in Bhutan’s tourism sector.

The DoT will also host a TedX Talk featuring multiple speakers from Bhutan discussing topics related to tourism through the years, sustainability and future projects, and a jewellery collection and fashion show where the event will showcase Bhutanese-inspired craftsmanship and design over the past fifty years.

Additionally, events will be hosted at Bhutanese embassies worldwide, inviting the media and travel trade to learn about Bhutan’s past and future tourism and working with dzongkhags to help tell their own stories about tourism over the past 50 years.

Content will be created to tell the stories of Bhutan’s past 50 years of tourism, showcasing images, videos, experiences, and memories to be used across all marketing channels. This includes a new brand film, a printed magazine, a coffee table book, a mini-documentary, and posters.

Other initiatives include the launch of new itineraries, the introduction of a loyalty programme, and working with the tourism industry to include the 50-year celebration into the guest experience, among other projects.

Over the years, Bhutan has steadily welcomed more guests, with a peak in 2019 when 320,000 tourists visited the country. Bhutan is the only country in the world to implement a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for all guests, which is currently USD 100 per adult per night. The funds from the SDF go towards various initiatives, including preserving the country’s pristine environment, maintaining its cultural heritage, providing free healthcare and education for all Bhutanese, and supporting sustainable development projects that benefit local communities.