Chencho Dema

Punakha—In response to the Prime Minister’s call to enhance tourist arrivals, the Department of Tourism is devising strategies to attract 300,000 visitors annually.

This endeavour is set to usher in a significant transformation in the river industry, notably with the imminent introduction of internationally certified river guides.

Presently, ten local river rafting instructors from two rafting services are undergoing rigorous two-week training in international river guiding and Rescue-3 techniques in Punakha. 

Spearheaded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Tourism, in collaboration with XPLORE Bhutan and Adventure Consultancy, this initiative is funded through a co-financing model involving UNDP BIOFIN and XPLORE Bhutan.

Upon completion of their certification, these guides are expected to serve as assessors for their peers seeking international accreditation locally.

Moreover, they will conduct refresher courses to aid other guides in their quest for international certification.

By the end of the training all guides will have undergone certified formal training in both International River Guide Training (IRGT) and Rescue 3.

Upon meeting the assessment standards, they will attain certification as ‘Instructor/Trainers’ with IRGT and Rescue 3, ensuring their inclusion in the international databases.

For those who do not initially meet the assessment criteria, certification will still be awarded, and they will be registered with IRGT and Rescue 3, signifying the completion of their training programs. At the conclusion of the course, a personal action plan will be discussed with them to prepare for a future assessment date.

This initiative forms part of a broader strategy to promote sustainable capacity-building within the local tourism industry, private sector, and biodiversity conservation efforts.

The programme, conducted in partnership with the Department of Tourism, XPLORE Bhutan, and Adventure Consultancy, seeks to establish international certification standards for river rafting guides in Bhutan.

The training is facilitated by two international experts from Adventure Consultancy, the UK.

Rinchen Tshering, UNDP BIOFIN National Coordinator, highlighted the significance of Punakha as a prime river-rafting destination with vast revenue potential, biodiversity conservation prospects, and opportunities for curbing illegal poaching.

The initiative is expected to benefit various stakeholders, including the forest department, police force, De-Suung (community-based volunteers), and disaster management officials.

The selection of the ten local river rafting instructors was based on their experience and adherence to specific criteria.

Upon completion of the training and acquisition of international certification, their credentials will be registered in the global database, enabling them to conduct river-rafting activities regionally and globally.

Rinchen Tshering emphasised the training’s dual purpose of capacity-building and tourism promotion, citing the cost-saving aspect compared to future training endeavours.

Currently, nine rafting services are operating in Punakha, Paro, Pangbang, and Gelephu.

As of 2023, the country had over 40 river rafting guides, with the highest in Punakha (32).