Yearender/Tourism: If not for the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer last year, China would have emerged as the top market, having beat America that usually dominates the international arrivals segment.

The horse year treated the tourism industry well, with an increase in tourist arrivals by about 15 percent from the previous year.  Tourism earnings also increased to USD 73.2M last year, the highest so far.  In 2013, tourism earnings stood at USD 63.5M.

The resilient exchange rate in recent years also helped the sector immensely.  Last year, with the dollar exchange rate crossing Nu 60 at one period, it further boosted earnings.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) recorded 68,081 international visitors, of which a majority were Thais with 12,105 visitors, followed by Chinese, Americans, and Germans with 8111, 7291, and 2971 visitors respectively.

Until 2013, Americans dominated the international arrivals segment with 6,927 visitors.  It was  the same year that the Chinese beat the Japanese to emerge as the second major source market with 4,764 visitors. Thais followed next with 3,494 visitors, while 2,753 German visitors were recorded in the same year.

The country usually records the highest arrivals from the US, followed by Japan.  In 2010, Germany saw an increase of about 42 percent in arrivals, overtaking UK that saw a decline in visitors that year.

China made it to the top five major markets for the first time in 2010, with an increase of about 30 percent in arrivals from 2009.  Since then the number of Chinese tourists visiting Bhutan is on the rise.

While the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer was also viewed with criticism from some sections of the industry, it came as a blessing for hoteliers, who still complain of the lean season issue. For once, the offer kept both hotels and hoteliers occupied during the lean season.

The offer for Thais for the months of June, July and August helped attract a huge number of Thai tourists, surpassing the initial target of 3,000.  During the same time, the country recorded earnings of about USD 9M from USD 6.1M in 2013.

As a part of the offer, Thais didn’t pay the mandatory minimum daily tariff of USD 200 for the lean summer months.  Instead, they were levied the daily royalty of USD 65, while the tour operators had to compete and develop attractive packages.  The national airlines, Drukair, and Bhutan airlines also offered about 50 percent discounts on airfares, while hotels provided up to 50 percent discount on their rates.

The industry looks forward to a good year ahead, with this year declared as Visit Bhutan year, to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King.  Numerous activities are planned across the country and, accordingly, tour operators are supposed to develop packages to attract visitors.

Kinga Dema