Staff Reporter

Bhutan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a USD 4.854 million project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The five-year project will be implemented by Tourism Council of Bhutan as part of Tourism Flagship Programme in the 12th Plan and will cover two protected areas (PAs) of Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in eastern Bhutan, and five districts of Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse and Zhemgang.

It seeks to mainstream biodiversity conservation into tourism development. It is a long-term strategy to mitigate threats to biodiversity, while also generating sustainable conservation financing and livelihoods for people within and outside protected areas, facilitating human-wildlife coexistence, and mitigating negative impacts of growing tourism on Bhutan’s socio-cultural heritage.

According to a joint press release, the project aims to establish Bhutan as a model ecotourism destination. The project’s design considers opportunities for contributing to green recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, including boosting of domestic tourism, employment opportunities, and increasing community resilience and connection to nature.

The project will also address barriers to establishing ecotourism through enabling national policy environment and institutional coordination, sustainable financing, innovation, and diversification of ecotourism products. It will also integrate ecotourism value chains and best practices into local community engagement, knowledge and capacity.

At the signing, Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary, Thinley Namgyel thanked UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for the support and cooperation in realising the project.

“Tourism is second to hydropower for revenue generation, and more importantly in terms of employment creation,” he said, adding that the pandemic displaced about 50,000 Bhutanese.

The project, he said, will help mainstream tourism in economic development and the 21st Century Economic Roadmap has set high targets for the tourism sector. “The project will open up four districts in the east to tourism, while also covering two protected areas.”

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) Director General Dorji Dhradhul said the council, which is the implementing agency for the project, is confident that the project will be successfully executed, with targets and goals achieved in the scheduled time.

He also said that the project came at the right time as TCB was preparing for post-pandemic tourism. “We are promoting Bhutan as a wellness and well-being destination and the ecotourism project will blend and complement each other.”

UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota, who attended the signing virtually from Japan, said that despite the pandemic and the climate crisis, further corroborated by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that there will be an unavoidable rise in global temperature by 1.5 degrees celsius by 2030, Bhutan remained farsighted, relevant and courageous in its pursuits that are green and sustainable.

Edited by Tshering Palden