Domestic tourism gives hope to tour agents

Phub Dem  | Paro

While the pandemic shut down the travel industry this year, local travellers look for ways to revamp their businesses through camping, glamping and Nyekor.

Glamping, a fancier offshoot of camping, has become a new trend in the wake of the pandemic.

Many locals pay extra so that they don’t have to spend pitching tents or rolling up sleeping bags and to avoid the crowd.

Tiger’s Nest Camp, which was initially built to target niche tourists, has now become a trending glamping company after the government stopped international tourists.

According to camp’s owner Sonam Wangchuk and Pema Yuden, domestic tourism came as a life-saving opportunity. “We can operate the business and also keep the staff and support them.”

Sonam Wangchuk said that the camp was earning well especially after the lockdown.

He said that people were exploring travel destinations within the country due to the pandemic.

Kinley Tshering, who is a corporate employee, said that treks and glamping within-country were safer and provided a perfect getaway from work.

He said that such attractions for domestic travellers were essential, as many cannot afford high-end hotels and resorts.

While glamping companies are observing an uptick demand, local tour organisers are seeing an increasing number of trekkers and campaigners.

Right after graduation, Kencho Dorji from Dumcho, Haa committed to local guiding rather than cramp the already saturated market with unemployed graduates.

Having hiked and toured mountains in Haa since 2013, he started his career as a guide.

Before the pandemic, he trekked with international tourists as an assistant guide. Today he is a leading group of domestic travellers to Nubtshonapata, Sagala and around Haa.

Had it not been for the pandemic, he said that it wouldn’t have been possible to start the venture.

Although there are many interested travellers and trekkers, he said that not many prefer long tours, as many are officegoers. “We are now planning short weekend getaways with lesser charges,” he said.

Kencho Dorji, along with a group of local guides from Haa, advertises their tours through Facebook and Instagram.

Veteran trekkers like Phub Tshering from Paro have been engaged in tours for more than a decade.

While he planned on domestic tourism years ago due to its financial impact on the economy, the plan came into action due to the pandemic.

Explore Bhutan with Phub Tshering began after international tourists were cut off from the country starting March this year.

He said that many Bhutanese go outside the country for vacation and leisure when the country has impressive attractions. “We have the most sacred sites for Nyekor and trekking trails.”

Phub Tshering has led more than 100 local travellers to Nubtshonapata and some groups to Dagala trek.

He said that there are many interested in trekking around Jomolhari base camp, Drukpath, and Bumdra, among others.

A tour package to Nubtshonapata, which is for five nights and six days, costs Nu 7,500 including all the charges.

Of that, a considerable amount is for porter and pony charges, chefs, kitchen crews, guides and local communities.

Other than limiting the number of individuals in groups, he said that it was challenging to follow Covid-19 protocols like a face mask and social distancing while camping and trekking.

According to tour organisers, the significant challenge facing them were garbage management, and they highlighted the need for a proper garbage management policy.

A tour operator said that if the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB)was serious in promoting domestic tourism, there should be clean toilets around campsites. “Local travellers are reluctant to use tent toilets as it is unhygienic.”

The TCB issued a notification last week lifting the ban on domestic tourism activities.

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