Part – II

Recent History of Tourism 


The state took on the onus of shielding the populace from undesirable outside influences and preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of the country. So, the tariff was fixed and all tours made inclusive and sold at a premium. The tariff system was the main feature of the founding tourism policy and aimed to draw only well-heeled and already well-travelled visitors who were sensitive to issues of culture and conservation of the natural environment. 

So, when the legendary Lindblad tour group came to Bhutan in 1974, each participant paid the set minimum daily package rate of US$ 130 per night.   Around 1978, DoT proposed a reduction to US$ 90 during off seasons and for the trekkers. It also proposed that diplomats be charged a year-round concessional rate of US$ 90. A similar discount rate of US$ 55 was proposed for registered students. In the proposal, DoT proposed that any special programme such as the Yak safari be marketed at US$ 180  per person per night. However, it is not clear if this proposal was ever implemented. A revision of the daily tariff took place in 1989, when it was increased to US$ 200.  In 2012 the tariff was further increased to US$ 250 per night for peak season tourists.

The impact of the 1989 tariff revision was felt initially, but the arrivals picked up again. In 1986, 1987 and 1988 the arrivals were 2,405, 2,524 and 2,199 respectively. But in1989 and 1990 the numbers dropped to 1,480 and 1,538 respectively. The fall was attributed primarily to the overseas agents misreading of the 1988 restrictions on visits to a few select religious sites as an all-out out ban of entry to dzongs and monasteries. The other reason was the closure of the BTC marketing and sales offices outside Bhutan, which lengthened considerably the time required to deal with formalities in processing tourist visas. The increase in the tariff and other reasons were only a temporary setback for tourists. By 1991, the numbers rose to 2,106 then continued to increase, crossing the 3,000 mark in 1994. 


The national airline has played a key role in tourism, heralding a new chapter in tourism. The foundation stone of the Paro airport was laid on 24 October 1966 and the work was completed in record time on 23 March 1968. By a royal proclamation Drukair was established on 5 April 1981 and the first airplane landed in Paro on 14 January 1983.

The government used the US$ 2 million earned in the first period of tourism to buy the Dornier 228. Interestingly, it did not have enough money to buy the spare parts.  With introduction of direct flights to Calcutta (1983), Dhaka (1986) Kathmandu (1987), Delhi (1988) and Bangkok (1989) it overcame some of the hurdles and gradually helped increase the number of tourist arrivals. 

Brand Bhutan 

From the time, Bhutan opened its door to tourism in 1974, it has actively followed and successfully  implemented the tourism policy of “High Value Low Volume,” and the inclusive premium tariff system. The policy not only served its purpose and achieved the three objectives set by the tourism policy but also ensured sustainable growth while at the same time  preserving our pristine natural environment and rich culture. It helped  the critical success for Brand Bhutan, making Bhutan an exclusive and niche destination. On 24 May 2019, His Majesty The King attributed the success of the tourism industry to the nation’s wise leadership when it was first established. In a statement, His Majesty stated that “when Bhutan opened to foreign tourists in the 1970s, our leadership resisted the temptations to harness a quick fortune from mass tourism and instead, was prescient to formulate a visionary policy of high-value-low-volume tourism. The wisdom of our tourism policy has led to the emergence of a strong Brand Bhutan as an exclusive destination.” 

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi