Bhutan-Japan friendship offer launched

Japanese tourists are entitled huge discounts in June, July and August 

Tourism: Japanese tourists visiting Bhutan will not have to pay the mandatory minimum daily package rate of USD 200 per person. They will only pay the daily royalty of USD 65 per person per night.

This is the highlight of Bhutan-Japan Friendship offer that was launched simultaneously in Thimphu and Tokyo, Japan yesterday to commemorate 30 years of close diplomatic ties between the two countries.

In Thimphu, Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji launched the offer, while minister for economic affairs, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, launched the offer in Tokyo.

The offer is for the months of June, July and August, which includes 50 percent discount on airfare besides discount of up to 50 percent on the hotels. There will also be flexibility of choices in other services.

All Japanese tourists are required to book their trip to Bhutan through a licensed tour operator.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that the offer is launched against the backdrop of three special events in Bhutan this year – birth of the Royal Heir, birth year of Guru Rinpoche and the 400th anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival in Bhutan.

“Against this historical background, Bhutan and Japan are commemorating 30 years of bilateral relations and friendship,” lyonpo said. “The offer is special and it would help promote people to people contact.”

Lyonpo also highlighted important development assistance from Japan in the agriculture, health, education, communications and human resource sectors. “The offer is a testimony of the good relations between the two countries,” lyonpo said, adding that bilateral relations between the two countries began in March 28, 1986.

TCB officials said that Japan has been an important development partner since formal relations started between Japan and Bhutan, especially in the area of agriculture sector where late Dasho Nishioka played an important role in promoting agriculture in Bhutan.

According to TCB, the first group of Japanese tourists visited Bhutan in 1975 when Bhutan opened up for tourism. Since then Japan remains an important market for Bhutan.

However, most tour operators expressed dissatisfaction over the offer saying the industry was not consulted and that the offer should not have been specific to Japan.

The tour operators’ and hotels associations had proposed for a similar offer last year for all tourists in the lean season.

Tour operators said the offer was decided despite reservations from tour operators. As the offer is from June to August, they said the offer would have implications in the long run, as most Japanese tourists travel during these months.

“Such offers are not beneficial but have a huge implication on the industry,” a tour operator said, adding that such offers should be done at a government level instead of strangulating the throats of businessmen. “Every time the government does that, they never consider touching the royalty but just the tariff.”

Some tour operators who deal with the Japanese market said even the Japanese agents were not happy with the offer. “None of us in the industry are happy,” one said. “It’s like legalizing undercutting at a time when it has become the talk of the town.”

A similar offer for Thai tourist was launched for the same period in 2014 to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The offer for Thai tourists, some tour operators said had a huge implication on the Thai market now, as it has become difficult to promote Bhutan in Thailand after the offer.

“Now the Thais know how low we can get so it’s difficult to sell tour packages at the normal rate,” a tour operator said.

Tour operators said Japanese market has always been good for Bhutan as a major source except for 2014 that witnessed a drop.

Records with TCB show a steady increase in arrivals of Japanese tourists since 2004, when the country recorded 1,087 tourists.  In 2012, Japan surpassed America in terms of international visitor segment for the first time with 6,967 tourists. Bhutan usually gets the highest arrivals from the US, followed by Japan.

Tourist arrivals from Japan slumped by more than 30 percent in 2014 where about 2,707 tourists visited, the lowest since 2010.  In 2013, the country recorded some 4,015 Japanese tourists.

The peak arrivals in 2012 were mainly attributed to His Majesty the King and Gyaltsuen’s visit to Japan in 2011, which generated enormous publicity and awareness on Bhutan.

Kinga Dema

4 replies
  1. Anders Kirstein Møller
    Anders Kirstein Møller says:

    Buzzibear, you expose a certain hypocrisy in your testament. This offer will let Japanese tourists come in just like regional tourists, thus putting strain on the tourism infrastructure but without leaving a big economic footprint. And that goes against the logic of “high value, low impact.”

    Last year’s offer for Thai tourists didn’t benefit all big tour operators, except those with an existing presence in the Thai market.

    And let us not forget that lower profit margins are often translated into lower wages and/or higher workloads for tour employees, so I do not agree with your employment argument.

    The only way we can uncover whether such moves (besides having diplomatic value) is of benefit to the Bhutanese economy is if a thorough, empirical study is performed of the Thai offer last year which measures the economic benefits against the increased strain on the tourism sector. As you mentioned, Bhutan is already beginning to be too crowded for some high-end international arrivals.

  2. buzzibear
    buzzibear says:

    This is really great gesture by the government and very smart. As the article states, Japan has been provided a enormous assistance to Bhutan over the thirty, be it in agriculture, telecommunications or other sectors. Japan has provided far more assistance than Thailand while not getting much back from Bhutan. Thailand actually already benefits indirectly from being one of the main entry points to Bhutan, with a lot of high end who visit Bhutan spending money at more expensive hotels and tourist spots in Bangkok.

    It’s extremely shameful to read about the greed displayed by some of the tour operators. Perhaps they’ve forgotten about how it used to be to make international call out of Bhutan, in the days before Japan set up satellite system which enabled Bhutanese to directly dial international number. Perhaps they’re forgetting while we spend all the dollars we earn on smartphones, and the latest SUVs, Japan is still providing power tillers to our farmers.

    • bhutan412
      bhutan412 says:

      @buzzibear please do remember that the tourism sector is the second largest contributor to the economy. we cannot afford to damage this industry as this is the most reliable predomaitainly operated by the private sector. The stakeholders of the tourism industry would be affected such as the employment rate will go down which will further worsen the economy’s employment rate. This is one of the most important sector that the economy should protect as i believe this is one of the few ways Bhutan can develop as a nation keeping in mind the goals of the UN millenia goals. i think your way of thinking is not critical as you are not considering the various stakeholders. The strategy by the government can be argued as either good or bad but the real intention is unknown.

      • buzzibear
        buzzibear says:

        @bhutan412 Giving the Japanese visitors this deal is NOT going to damage the industry and affect the employment rate in the industry. This has to be the most nonsensical argument one could make against this proposal. If anything, this proposal will increase employment, especially for those in the lower rungs of the sectors, people like guides and drivers. The increase in numbers of Japanese visitors will require the service of more of these workers. These worker really do most of the real work of spending time with the visitors and taking them around, so they should benefit. The only thing this will likely affect will be the mostly wealthy and influential of the big tour operator owners who are able to pocket a hefty margin with little effort because of current spending requirements. I don’t think giving Japanese visitors a special deal for three months is going to have a lasting effect on these people.
        If you are a “stackholder” in the tourism and feel the need to protect the sector, what you need be really need to more worried about is the thousands of “regional” tourists that are coming in Bhutan, spending very little money, aren’t required have guides etc. Some of the visitiors who come to Bhutan seem to be getting quite disappointed after having to spend thousands of dollars because Bhutan is “exclusive” destination, only the find that the tourist sites are just as crowded as elsewhere.

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