…industry expected to contribute Nu 30 billion to GDP by 2029

Thukten Zangpo

The tourism industry is set for a major shot in the arm as the government plans to allocate Nu 2 billion from its Nu 15 billion economic stimulus programme (ESP) to the industry.

This was announced by officials from the department of tourism during the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators’ annual general meeting on May 28. The investment aims to revitalise the tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) has set an ambitious target of attracting 300,000 tourists annually and generating Nu 2.56 billion in annual revenue.

This year’s target is 200,000 tourists with expected arrival of 70 percent Indian tourists paying the Nu 1,200 sustainable development fee (SDF) and the remaining 30 percent USD 100 paying tourists.

The ministry plans to shift tourist arrivals to 60:40 (Indian: USD paying tourists) target in 2025 and 50:50 in the year after. As of April, Bhutan has seen 41,390 tourist arrivals, with 58.4 percent tourists coming from India.

An official from the department of tourism under the MoICE, Damchoe Rinzin said that the funds will be used to develop new tourism products like craft bazaars and night markets.

He added that potential locations are identified near the main town area’s vegetable market.

These new markets, according to Damchoe Rinzin, will provide a platform for local artisans in crafts, arts, and music, while also enhancing the cultural immersion experience for tourists. 

Additionally, he said that there are plans to conduct Bhutan Festival Week in four cities of India and Bangkok to attract tourists. 

To make travel to Bhutan more affordable, the ministry is also working on subsidising airfare. With higher airfare, most tourists would likely choose to enter Bhutan through Phuentsholing from Bagdogra, India.

The ministry is also focusing on improving capacity building by upskilling tourists guides, hotel employees, tour operators, home stays staff to enhance the overall visitor experience. 

The ministry plans to identify game-changing products in specific locations to create unique experiences that attract tourists.  

The government will soon introduce an SDF waiver on MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) events, Damchoe Rinzin said.  “This waiver will apply to the non-tourist category, offering a five-night SDF exemption for conferences and exhibitions with a minimum of 15 people throughout the year.”

MoICE’s secretary, Tashi Wangmo stressed the importance of collaboration with the private sector to achieve these goals. 

She said that the ministry is committed in facilitating a more business-friendly environment and is currently working on a Tourism Strategic Masterplan to guide the industry’s development in the coming years.