Yangchen C Rinzin 

While Bhutan remains closed to international tourists owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a renewed effort in promoting domestic tourism led by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

Previous efforts to tap on the domestic tourism potential could not reap the desired outcome.

TCB director general Dorji Dhradhul said that taking the current situation as an advantage, domestic tourism can be upscaled and make local tourism more pronounced.

“If it was not regulated earlier, this time we can streamline and give importance. We want to coordinate and support those ideas that are productive.”

Domestic tourism involved residents travelling within the country. The director general said that when people travel, it propels other economic sectors, which generates employment and other income opportunities.

“Domestic tourism is essential anywhere in the country,” the director general said.

In an effort to promote domestic travel, the TCB invited private tourism partners to register with TCB. Those who are engaged in domestic tourism and others who are interested in engaging in the business.

So far 76 have registered with the TCB and of that, 59 are tour operators followed by hoteliers and others. Three are engaged in domestic tourism while four have come up with packages and rest were expressing interest.

TCB’s deputy chief marketing officer Damcho Rinzin said that domestic tourism has become important, as there is an urgent need to start tourism and engage those in the industry displaced by Covid-19.

“Domestic tourism can help provide tourism engagement when there is no international tourism activity in the country,” he said. “Domestic tourism is usually resilient to external factors, so it’s important for us to focus on it.”

Some of the ideas pitched during a recent meeting were Eco-Adventure Tourism at Manas, a pilgrimage to Singye Dzong, Aja ney in Mongar, Juniper trek in Paro and Haa, Lingdi organic farm and monpa in Trongsa, Jhomolhari trek, Buli Tsho in Zhemgang, and Blue Poppy trek.

Damcho Rinzin said domestic tourism plays an integral part in the overall tourism economy and Bhutan has not been able to tap this potential.

Following the registration, TCB conducted a workshop with those interested groups to learn the challenges and how TCB could intervene.

Damcho Rinzin said many expressed that they need support in the development and promotion of domestic tourism, although it would be challenging to ensure Covid-19 health protocol.

Those at the meeting said that they require dedicated support from the local government officials and the community.

“Since we’ve met and interacted with them, now we’ll develop a platform to feature their domestic tourism packages including creating awareness on such platform,” Damcho Rinzin said. 

“We’ll also have to connect local government officials and relevant stakeholders to promote domestic tourism collectively.”

TCB will also support the promotion of potential places to make it easier for domestic tourism promoters to take local tourists on tours, and help create awareness and market their services.

“We’ll also discuss with public offices to let the private domestic tourism promoters to handle the in-country travel programmes for their offices,” Damcho Rinzin said. “For instance, the organisation of farmers’ study tours and office retreat programmes could be outsourced to private tour operators.”

One of the domestic tourism promoters, Tharchen said that domestic tourism would help contribute to community development, create employment, and facilitate income generation.

He pitched the idea of Lingdi Organic Farm in Trongsa as a local destination.

“We plan to tag our Lingdi farm as an educational tour for students, retreat centres, hike along with indigenous communities and Guru Rinpoche trails,” Tharchen said.

“It’s difficult to make necessary arrangements in domestic tourism, unlike international tourists, where markets and products are already in place.”

Meanwhile, the domestic and outbound tourism survey 2019 showed that 46.82 percent or 210,801 individuals have reported having engaged in domestic overnight travels in the country.

However, the majority of the overnight trips have taken place for visiting friends and relatives followed by health and medical care.

Only a few, which is about 17.95 percent had visited for holiday or leisure, and only about 12 percent visited for pilgrimage, among other reasons. Most of the trips were in Thimphu.

In 2019, the domestic overnight visitors recorded a total expenditure of Nu 5,913 million, which is a significant contribution or spending given the relatively unknown or informal domestic tourism situation in the country.