“What is the brand?”
This was the question on many minds at the end of the grand launch of brand Bhutan on Thursday, even as Bhutan was gearing to open the country to guests, not tourists, after more than two years of shutting the border for tourists.
Bhutan ‘Believe’ is our new brand. It will be left to interpretation as abstract as the tagline. But what it represents is that we can believe in the potential, the possibilities and the opportunities that Bhutan offers in a fast changing world.
Bhutan is no longer “unique”, a selling point a long time ago. Nor is it the Shangri-La as many who came chasing it found it had waned or waning. But we can believe in our aspirations. The new tourism policy is about transformation – in areas of sustainable development, infrastructure development and the elevation of our guests’ experience.
The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe derailing development plans and aspirations. The long break that confined governments and people in the corners of their homes or country provided the window to rethink, reshape and relook at policies.
Bhutan believed that our tourism policy had to change. The high value, low volume was overshadowed by greed. There was a high flow of Dollars or Rupees, but not value. We believed we could offer more. We believed in change.
As a small nation with limited infrastructure, we didn’t have space or scope for mass tourism. Our low volume policy will not restrict visitors who are conscious of the value of travelling to new places to see new cultures and learn and unlearn. Tourism is changing worldwide and travellers too. The conscious tourists are looking for meaningful destinations. The destinations are beyond the beaches and the luxurious hotels. There is the yearning of exploring new destinations where income is not the lowest common denominator.
At the heart of the new policy is our youth – a symbol of hope and future. Conscious visitors will choose destinations that value the future whether it is in the environment or the values that recognise the future generation. Not many could decipher the faces of young people in the handout. The young generation, it says , is at the core of the message.
As Bhutan opened its door to tourists yesterday, the sustainable development fee was not the issue. Those whose visit coincided with the opening couldn’t believe the reception. The culture, the hospitality and the warmth of Bhutanese on display at the Paro international airport, many said was ‘unbelievable.’ Not every tourist will be welcomed in the same way, but Bhutan and the Bhutanese will always have the heart, the warmth and will be the host to receive them with open hearts as our ‘guests.’
For the conscious traveller, cost is not an issue. It is the experience that matters. Mass tourism so far has denied our guests that experience. Many nations believe in quality over quantity. The many tourists that camp around the country on $ 10 a day by eating instant noodles or those staying in dorms may be a thing of the past as the global tourism relook at its strategies post Covid-19.
Bhutan is transforming. Tourism is just one area. The belief is that we have to and can transform for a better future for Bhutanese and the world.