To assess where the country is lacking while promoting it as a tourist destination, the government will have a flagship programme on tourism, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said at the national tourism conference yesterday.

“With this flagship programme, it is not just to talk about the industry, not just to promote ourselves but see where we are lacking,” Lyonchhen said. “It is to see how we can even out the differences between different dzongkhags; make all 12 months a season for tourists to visit Bhutan, how all industries must be benefitting and how Bhutanese economy should be benefitting because we just cannot keep banking on hydropower. We all know how susceptible that can be,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that the government was committed to taking tourism to the top, the theme of the conference. The government, he said, has already started towards it.

The initial step was to hand over the tourism council chairmanship to the Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji. This, Lyonchhen said was based on a few factors.

By 2023, Bhutan will graduate from the least developed countries category and will be entering the developing countries category.

“We that, we must also change our mindset and must change the way we do our business.

The foreign minister is the best person to lead this industry because through him, we could chip in Bhutanese foreign policy in tourism,” he said. “We can rope in all Bhutan’s embassies to work as ambassadors for the industry.”

He urged the participants to raise issues and support TCB to see whether the sector could really take tourism to the top. “We just cannot keep talking about it, we must try to work on it.”

In the next five years, Lyonchhen assured that tourism would get a lot of attention. With a change in leadership at the TCB, and change in governance, he said tourism should receive what it deserves.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said tourism contributes immensely to the economy, is second to hydropower in terms of revenue but the top generator of employment. According to TCB, the tourism industry employed 27,000 people as of 2017.

Given that unemployment is one of the biggest problems in the country and especially related to large number of youth, he said that for any government, tackling unemployment would be one of the biggest challenges. “Tourism is one of the answers to this challenge that we are facing.”

Tourism has come a long way and despite its success, he said that there are many challenges in the sector. “We know that we don’t have a comprehensive tourism policy, coordination between different sectors and problems faced by individual sectors,” Lyonpo said. “On part of the government, we are here to facilitate and support the growth of this important sector so be reassured that we will take all the recommendations made from this conference seriously,” he said.

Over 100 people attended the first day of the conference yesterday.

TCB’s director general, Dorji Dradhul said the conference was held for all individuals and agencies to network and work together. It was also to take stock of questions and answers to take tourism to the top.

He said that the theme of the conference, Taking Tourism to the Top, could be understood in two ways – making tourism number one in terms of revenue earning and to make Bhutan tourism number one in the world.

Dechen Tshomo