Gearing up for the Bhutan-Japan friendship offer

The offer is for the lean season months of June, July and August

Tourism: With barely a month left for the Bhutan-Japan friendship offer to kick off, many tour operators are not so optimistic of the offer aimed at attracting Japanese tourists to improve arrivals during the lean season months of June, July and August.

Tour operators said that the Japanese offer would not be as successful given the timing of the offer, profile of Japanese visitors and the market, among others. They said that the offer was launched without any consultation with the industry stakeholders and proper planning that has affected promotion and marketing.

Tour operators also said that Japanese tourists plan their visits well ahead. As a developed country, they said such offers or schemes do not matter much to the Japanese.

“Some Japanese tourists who had booked their trips with us since last year also cancelled their trips because of the offer,” a tour operator said. “The offer wouldn’t be as successful as it was for the Thai tourists.”

Even hoteliers remain skeptical of the number of Japanese tourists that the offer would be able to attract to help occupancy during these lean summer months. Hoteliers said that they haven’t received much booking compared to the Thai offer wherein a similar package was launched for Thai tourists in 2014.

 

A hotelier in Paro lauded the Thai offer but said the bookings this year during the lean season were much less comparatively. “Japan is already a niche market and such offers come with a compromise, it doesn’t matter much to the Japanese unlike Thais,” he said.

Another hotelier who also runs a travel agency said she isn’t really promoting the offer like she did during the Thai offer given the negative impact.

She said that the rates for the Thai market have dropped to the extent that agents in Thailand still prefer the rate offered during the offer period. “I’m worried that it (Japan offer) will have a similar impact like that of the Thai offer,” she said. “Such offers have started to have an impact on brand Bhutan.”

Among those promoting the offer, a huge price competition has ensued like during the Thai offer. Some tour operators are promoting the offer for as low as USD 110 to 120 a day per guest inclusive of the royalty. Another issue that tour operators highlighted was that of regional spread of tourism benefits. As Japanese tourists visit for about five days on average, tour operators said the visits during the offer period would be centered in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha or Wangdue.

A tour operator who mostly targets the Japanese market said that the booking for the lean season improved drastically this year compared to last year. “But we don’t have a choice but to do bring down the price in order to compete,” he said, adding that too much of discount would not work with the Japanese and that tour operators should be mindful of that. Some expressed concerns over the overseas agents benefiting more from the offer than Bhutanese industry stakeholders, as they deal directly with Japanese clients.

Irrespective of such issues, Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB) remains hopeful that the offer would help guides especially language speaking guides even if it means lesser arrivals compared to Thais.

GAB president Garab Dorji said that the association hasn’t received any inquires for guides for now. “There is also no issue of shortage of guides for the offer period,” he said, adding that there are more Japanese speaking guides than other languages.

While the price war among the tour operators is a concern, he said the contradictory statement from tour operators was another issue.

Garab Dorji said initially when the offer was launched, tour operators were quoted saying that the Japanese have cancelled their trips to avail the offer. “Now they are saying there are not many visitors despite the offer,” he said.

Launched to commemorate 30 years of close diplomatic ties between the two countries, the Bhutan-Japan friendship offer 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.

As part of the offer, 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. All Japanese tourists are required to book their trip to Bhutan through a licensed tour operator.

Going by the annual tourism monitor, tourist arrivals from Japan, one of the major international markets for Bhutan, slumped by more than 30 percent in 2014. Around 2,707 Japanese tourists visited the country in 2014, the lowest since 2010. In 2013, the country recorded some 4,015 Japanese tourists against 6,967 the previous year.

Tourism Council of Bhutan refused to share the expected arrival figures or comment on the offer.

Kinga Dema

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