Around one-sixth of the projected number visited eastern parts of the country

Tourism: Only about 3.6 percent of the international tourists visited the eastern parts of the country last year, against the target of 20 percent that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) had set to improve regional spread of tourism benefits.

Improvement of regional spread of tourism benefits, which is linked to development of roadside amenities, is one of the two indicators that is at risk of not achieving the set target, according to the council.

Presenting the status of the council’s performance at the mid-year review on February 2, TCB director Chimmy Pem said land acquisition issues had delayed development of roadside amenities.

“The long processes involved in acquiring government land than private land caused delay in implementation,” she said. “We got in touch with the National Land Commission and the Prime Minister’s Office as well, regarding this issue.”

Development of roadside amenities for tourists is among the 20 key indicators of the performance management agreement signed between the council and the government.  Of the 20 indicators, 15 are on track, while five have been marked as achieved.

As per the performance agreement, five roadside amenities were to be developed, of which work is underway on three.  They are located in Menchuna, Chazam and Trongsa, where restaurants and toilet facilities are being developed.

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said that roadside amenities for tourists were as important as tourists are to Bhutan. “Garbage and lack of roadside amenities are major complaints from tourists every year,” he said. “We’ll sort out the issues, together with the land commission and the council immediately.”

Finance secretary Lam Dorji said, merely constructing toilets was not enough, and that maintenance was equally important.  Given the state of toilets today, Lam Dorji said they were not even fit for the locals to use, let alone tourists.

Lyonchhoen urged government agencies and the private sector to take the initiative to maintain the toilets, for which the government was willing to provide support. “If no one is interested, I’ll have to take the initiative myself,” lyonchhen said.

The council managed to achieve the target of organising familiarisation trips for international tour operators, road shows, and seminars to build brand Bhutan.  To improve and upgrade tourism services, 10 new accommodations were accredited as three-star properties, while six were upgraded to three-star standard.

From July to December last year, a total of 77,442 international and regional tourists visited the country, against the target of 127,420 tourists.  Revenue of USD 104.57M, excluding airline receipts, was earned against the target of USD 310M.  About 24,645 jobs were created in the tourism sector, as per the preliminary assessment report.

Chimmy Pem said the council also participated in six major international tourism fairs, and was continuing to work with established international media houses to promote Bhutan. “So far, we’ve worked with about 13 of the 25 we’ve targeted,” she said.

Brazil is also being explored as a potential market for Bhutan, and works are on to build tie-ups with international tour operators to send more tourists to Bhutan.  This, Chimmy Pem said, was a three-way agreement between the council, Bhutanese tour operators and foreign tour operators, wherein the council bears 25 percent of the cost of promotional activities.

The circuit tourism development plan for Mongar, Trashiyangtse and Trashigang will be ready by the end of this fiscal year.  The revised tourism rules and regulations, officials said, have also been submitted to the cabinet for endorsement.

However, a major issue for the council was the lack of coordination when developing tourism activities.  Chimmy Pem said many agencies were implementing and developing tourism activities, without the council being informed.

For instance, she said parks were developing homestays, while some agencies have introduced bed and breakfast for tourists. “This is a challenge for us, as it contradicts the policy of Bhutan as a high-end destination,” she said. “Such duplication of efforts could lead to issues in future.”

Kinga Dema