PATA: Bhutan is working on having better roads, two helicopters and 11 trekking routes to ensure that guests, who visit the country, live a journey they can cherish throughout their lives.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay made these announcements and more at the closing of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) adventure travel and responsible tourism conference and mart 2015, yesterday in Thimphu.

Bhutan, he said, is now a member of PATA, an association that promotes responsible development of travel and tourism in the Asia Pacific region.

By becoming a member, lyonchoen said, Bhutan would have the help of the association’s media and communication colleagues to promote Bhutan.

“We can now use their expertise, resources and knowledge in terms of promoting and generating business in Bhutan,” lyonchhoen said.

Lyonchhoen shared with the participants that 2015 is a Visit Bhutan year, dedicated to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 60th birth anniversary.

“His Majesty is an enlightened monarch, the architect of the controlled, deliberate and responsible faculty of tourism that we have today; our first batch of tourists arrived in 1974 during the coronation of His Majesty, and he has insisted to keep the numbers down and provide a quality experience not available elsewhere,” lyonchhoen said. “Visit Bhutan is about celebrating a great man, the architect of unique tourism in the world.”

Lyonchhoen made a series of announcements, which, when implemented, would boost the tourism industry. “Bhutan’s roads are infamous for tourists, and are filled with potholes; so we’ve started improving and expanding the road from Thimphu to the East, about 500km, which will take three years from now,” lyonchhoen said.

The prime minister promised that the roads would be comfortable with proper pit stops, facilities to take short breaks or excursions, and asked the tourists to be patient.

“After three years, we promise that we’ll provide a road that could be featured in the top 50 must drives in the world,” lyonchhoen said. “Since we’re expanding our roads and we don’t want to provide an uncomfortable experience to tourists, we’ve decided to hire two helicopters, which will be available for tourists this year.”

The prime minister also announced that 11 new trekking routes in different parts of the country would be opened this year, as well as organic farming for tourists started.

He said that, since tourists loved the traffic policemen, who stand as an epitome and brand Bhutan, traffic policemen would be placed at different landmarks around Thimphu.

Safe walking, biking and hiking trails for the tourists would also be provided, while a small heritage village in Thimphu would also be built during the Visit Bhutan year.

“Environment is one of the biggest reasons why tourists visit the country; so the agriculture and forest ministry will be conducting a forest inventory, where statistics will be available on how much oxygen is being produced by our forest, and also to prove that Bhutan is a carbon negative country,” lyonchhoen said.

The Visit Bhutan year will also focus on being a green and clean Bhutan, and opportunities will be provided to tourists to visit hydropower plants to see how clean energy is generated.

“Tourism in Bhutan isn’t about money or numbers or about us,” lyonchhoen said. “It’s about the journey through Bhutan and oneself, a journey that guests can cherish throughout their lives.”

Records with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) show that about 116,000 tourists visited the country in 2013.  Last year, there were about 130,000 tourists.

“We don’t know how many tourists will visit this year, but we don’t want more than 200,000 tourists, otherwise we aren’t being true to ourselves in terms of sustaining and providing responsible tourism,” lyonchhoen said. “We’re not being true to the tourists as well, and we’re purposely keeping the volume low.”

CEO of PATA, Mario Hardy, said PATA was formed since 1951, and has been a leading voice and authority on travel and tourism in Asia Pacific region.

“In partnership with private and public sector members, PATA enhances sustainable growth, value and quality of travel and tourism from and within the region,” Mario Hardy said. “Bhutan will now benefit from these partnerships.”

The association comprises 90 government, state and city tourism bodies, nearly 30 international airlines, airports and cruise lines, 57 educational institutions, and hundreds of travel industry companies in Asia Pacific and beyond.

About 200 delegates from the Asia Pacific region attended the event that PATA and TCB organised.  The conference focused on creating new opportunities, by promoting environmental protection and social sustainability within the tourism industry.

By Thinley Zangmo