Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan Dorji Dhradhul speaks about the transformation in the tourism sector. 

Why is the change in tourism happening?

The tourism transformation must be viewed within the larger context of national transformation. It is about the larger vision to prepare Bhutan for a new and resilient future. It is about the role of tourism as a strategic national asset that brings benefit to all Bhutanese and especially our future generation.

The transformation is a return to our root policy of high value, low volume and a renewed commitment to pursue this goal. It will reposition Bhutan as a high value, exclusive destination for discerning tourists. This also translates to raising our standard of infrastructure and service, re-skilling and up-skilling our service providers and providing meaningful and well-paying jobs that ultimately enhance the quality of life of all Bhutanese people.

 Is this the right time for the tourism transformation? 

The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities and has been a wake-up call to reflect and recalibrate. We want to emerge stronger out of the pandemic and make our tourism sector stronger and more resilient, by ensuring better incomes for all, so this is the right time.

The proposed SDF seems to be very high. Will this not result in a decreased number of tourists?  

The current SDF was implemented since 1991 and has not been increased for the last two decades, and does not reflect inflation, rising purchasing power and growth of tourism pressure on the environment and society. The proposed SDF reflects our position as a high value, exclusive destination defined by the result of carefully crafted policies that have placed sustainability at the forefront. The SDF will address the rising negative externalities such as the carbon footprint of visitors and also uplift the quality of our infrastructure and services.

The luxury tourism market is one of the growing segments of the tourism industry, projected to grow to USD 45 billion by 2027 (Global Market Insight). Therefore, we have huge potential to tap into this market, which entails shifts in the customer segment for Bhutan.

What are the plans to make Bhutan a high value destination?

Reinforcing high value, low volume tourism will result in a major facelift in the quality of infrastructure, services and experiences that will benefit not only the tourists but ourselves as well. Additionally, the overall transformation will provide the opportunity for service providers and stakeholders to innovate and grow.

Bhutan will re-brand itself and at the national level, the Government will invest heavily in branding, promotion, and marketing.

What are opportunities from the tourism transformation?

Under the current system, a tourist has not been able to fully exercise individual choice and subsequently, Bhutanese service providers have not had the incentives to innovate. The transformation provides huge opportunities for Bhutanese to innovate a range of diverse and authentic Bhutanese products and experiences.

As we provide high value services, Bhutanese people will also enjoy the high value infrastructure and services developed for tourism.

While tourism will continue to be an important economic sector, given Bhutan’s long-term strategy of developing talent in areas such as IT, banking and finance, engineering, biotechnology etc, the scale of tourism is also being strategically calibrated. We must keep in mind that we only have a limited pool of youth in the country. If current practice continues, all our youth can be easily absorbed by tourism. Since the sector in its current set-up does not require much skills, it also becomes an easy employment option and an easy way to make money. This would however be a grave injustice to our youth.  

The transformation therefore places our youth at the center and is aimed to ensure that the economic gains trickle down to our youth in the form of higher skills and remuneration and youth will be highly trained, skilled and specialized in their fields of operation, also making their work more meaningful and fulfilling.

To be continued ….