Tourism development: Looking inward

Tourism is one of Bhutan’s mainstays. However, we haven’t looked beyond international guests. Covid-19 pandemic, therefore, taught us a good lesson. Domestic tourism is now beginning in earnest.

Had Bhutan worked on developing domestic tourism since the country decided to open its door to the world in the early 1970s, the advent of Covid-19 would not have rendered a large number of Bhutanese, especially youth, jobless. The many sectors that are crippled by the pandemic would have been upbeat and afloat.

Bhutan’s economy is small and there are barriers to overcome. In the tourism sector, especially, looking at the dollars and forgetting the ngultrum is the real problem. The entrepreneurs in the sector look for short-term gains and, so, there is no innovation in the sector. Sustainability and employment creation suffers.

Tourism development hinges on lodging, restaurants, transportation, and amusements. But international tourism is just one part of the whole sector. Thousands of Bhutan go to India, Nepal and beyond on annual pilgrimage because the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and the tour operators are unable to develop and market the products at home.

If tourism must penetrate beyond Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Wangdue, the critical elements that help to drive the development of tourism must be encouraged, developed and promoted. This is not happening.

Ecotourism and homestays continue to show some promise, but if they are to last there must be a major reform in the sector. It must begin with the ease of transportation. Affordability, looking from the perspective of domestic tourism, is critically important. With the kind of branding and marketing that TCB does, we probably won’t ever run short of visitors from abroad.

In many countries, domestic tourism is bigger than international tourism. Why it is not so in Bhutan can be explained by the lack of coordination between agencies. There is a need for a common, long-term vision to guide the development of one of the highest revenue-earning sectors in the country.

Reportedly, close to 80 entrepreneurs shown their interest to invest in the development of domestic tourism. It is all the more important because domestic tourism is resilient to external factors. We are a country endowed with rare natural beauty and deep spiritual and cultural history.

Promoting domestic tourism has been long time coming. Now that it is here, let it not be just a passing romance with it. We are talking about economic resilience and employment creation in one of the biggest revenue-generating sectors in the country.

Glamping (a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping) is a new trend in Bhutan. Such advances and innovations in the sector can contribute majorly to the development of local economies because domestic tourism is less fragile or sensitive to external factors.

Continuous tourism could be the new theme of Bhutan’s economic development.

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