Tourism: Bhutan is the destination on the bucket list for many seasoned travellers around the world. There needs to be greater sense of purpose and collective responsibility among all the stakeholders in order to tap the full potential of the industry.

Therefore, the long awaited Tourism Master Plan needs to be put in to action to give the industry direction, content and pace towards tourism policy of “High Value, Low Volume” propounded by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. We don’t need to look far where countries that have embraced mass tourism policy backfired. Given our size and population, liberalisation would be unsustainable in the long run and we can’t risk liberalization today, as our children would be the ultimate beneficiaries tomorrow.

As everyone is aware MakeMy Trip India Pvt. Ltd., based in Gurgaon, Haryana has been operating tours to Bhutan for sometime now. I wonder if anyone has questioned the legality of doing business without a valid business license. Concerned agencies need to look into this matter urgently before another foreign company comes and operates here. Small companies from across the border town operating groups to Bhutan during the summer months and the carrying capacity of cars from across the border ferrying tourists need to be monitored. The country loses substantial amount of revenue through leakage.

Many countries envy Bhutan’s “High Value, Low Volume” tourism policy. This policy has helped us see things differently – not as a resource to be exploited but as a sacred place to be protected and celebrated for its uniqueness. This policy has also guided us to view tourists not as mere units of consumption, but as guests on a healing and transformational journey. We have much to be thankful for this noble policy for guiding the industry this far.

We have close to 2,000 tour operators, which is a huge number for a small country like ours. And in order for Brand Bhutan to survive we need serious players, good policies and rule of law to encourage responsible players and to discourage briefcase operators. In the recent past, we have witnessed visa forgery cases whether intended or unintended; such acts only contribute toward tarnishing the credibility of ‘Brand Bhutan’. Brand Bhutan is priceless.

A penalty of Nu 10,000 – 20,000 for a visa forgery doesn’t do any justice for an act that seriously undermines the national security and jeopardizes Brand Bhutan. These kinds of incidences will only increase with increasing number of tour operators. Concerned agencies need to act now to not let such incidences reoccur in the future. Bhutan’s image is more important than a tour operator.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan website and all other information materials printed must say that it is illegal to sell below the minimum government set tariff. This to a certain extent will automatically curb undercutting. We must not forget that undercutting or selling tour packages below the minimum set tariff is not only illegal but puts a cheap price tag to Brand Bhutan.

Bhutan doesn’t need International five star chain hotels come and operate here to sell as a high-end destination. We could bring in the expertise from outside and build luxury hotels within the local context – aesthetic Bhutanese architecture with modern amenities. As we all know, tourists come to Bhutan to see and experience something different. If Bhutan encourages having more five star hotels to come in, then the whole point of visiting Bhutan (authentic experience) is defeated. We must encourage local brands to come up through tax and other incentives to minimize the leakage of tourism revenue through the international five star hotels. Thus, there is a need to look into the current Foreign Direct Investment policy for the future.

The products sold at the handicraft and souvenir stores need to be looked into as well. Products imported from Nepal and India have flooded the market and tourists already have negative reviews on stores selling the items at a skyrocketing price here. We could explore other avenues to encourage local products.

It is high time concerned government agencies put in place a proper licensing system, a mechanism to monitor the service providers – Tour operators, guides, hotels, restaurants etc. Most of all we will need to be vigilant, reliable, dependable, credible, helpful, respectful, open, responsive and honest. We must learn to think globally and act locally.

The most important right each and every Bhutanese have is the right to be responsible.

Contributed by

Tashi Tobgay