International tourists also had issues with food and improper waste management

Tourism: Conditions of the national highways followed by improper waste management and food quality rated highly among complaints that international tourists highlighted during their visit to Bhutan last year.

More than 40 percent of the international tourists, during the exit survey conducted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan last year, pointed out discomfort while travelling on national highways given poor road conditions. Therefore, they suggested improvement of highways.

“Many felt the poor road conditions would discourage future tourism prospects, especially in a niche industry highly influenced by word-of-mouth advertisement,” the recently released Bhutan tourism monitor 2015 states.

This was followed by about 25 percent of the visitors expressing concerns over improper waste management prominent along trails, and towns and villages. While visitors appreciated the pristine environment, they expressed concerns over its sound, long-term management.

About 12 percent felt that food in hotels and restaurants needed improvement in terms of diversification besides expressing concerns over hygiene. Threats posed by stray dogs in the streets, lack of cleanliness in public rest rooms and sanitation were also issues, which according to tourists, required improvement.

When the exit survey was administered on 5,022 international tourists departing Bhutan, they were provided with an option to personally write out their comments, views, complaints, and suggestions relating to their visit. Among them, 255 visitors provided comments and ranked these thematic issues.

With a growth of over 16 percent, the country recorded 155,121 regional and international visitors last year. While regional tourists saw an unprecedented growth of about 49 percent with 97,584 visitors, international tourists dropped by about 16 percent with 48,800 visitors. The drop in international arrivals is mainly attributed to the Nepal earthquake. The tourism monitor also stated that the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer in 2014 recorded an unprecedented number of Thai visitors.

Among the regional visitors, a majority arrived over land and about 27 percent of them by air. Most regional tourists visited in May, October and December.

The tourism monitor also states that almost half of international tourists last year were from the Asia/Pacific region. Tourists from China accounted for about 19 percent of the total visitors, a growth of about 16 percent from the previous year. The United States followed as the second source market at about 14 percent and Thailand at about seven percent.

According to the tourism monitor, Chinese tourists dominated tours throughout the year except in October and November. As the second largest source market, arrivals from the US dropped by about two percent last year. Similarly, visitors from Thailand also dropped by about 69 percent. Tourists from the UK grew by about 10 percent, and Singapore by about 45 percent to capture fourth and fifth places. The rest of the top 10 source markets were Germany, Japan, Australia, France, and Malaysia.

The drop in international tourists also led to a drop in earnings by about three percent.  The total revenue from tourism last year stood at USD 71.04 million (M) from USD 73.2M the previous year. The drop was attributed to regional events, including the bombing in Bangkok and earthquake in Nepal as both cities are the main entry and exit points for Bhutan.

Among international tourists, about 90 percent availed air services to enter the country, while less than 10 percent used land services. About 93 percent and six percent of the visitors used air and land services to exit Bhutan. Close to half of all visitors entered and exited Bhutan through Bangkok, followed by Kathmandu.

As is the trend, majority of tourists visited Bhutan for cultural sightseeing and related activities, travelling in groups comprising one to four members. October, March and April continued to be the most visited months. In all, about 37 percent of the international tourists visited Bhutan in the autumn and about 32 percent in spring.

International tourists spent an average of 6.93 nights in the country. The longest staying visitors were from Australia, UK, France and Germany spending more than eights nights in Bhutan.

Indicating regional imbalance, the western districts of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Wangduephodrang continued to receive the highest number of tourists, as is the trend. Although these districts also recorded the highest number of bed nights, it was less compared to 2014 given the drop in international tourists. However, Tsirang, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Gasa, Lhuentse, Trashiyangtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Trashigang, Mongar, Haa, and Chukha received fewer tourists, but saw growth from 2014.

Kinga Dema