Visiting Bhutan

The festival season in Bhutan is incomplete without curious tourists, some in ghos and kiras, becoming very much a part of the crowd. They time their visit to the country with the tshechus, as the rich culture and colourful crowd provides them a different experience.

After the tshechu, they go and trek the mountains or tour the valleys to explore Bhutan, which for some is still a shangrila or the closest thing to it. Besides the festival, the virgin mountains with rich flora and fauna, the prayer flags, the red-robed monks praying in monasteries or even the smiling farmer drying chillies on the rooftop provides an experience far from the madding crowd or the metropolitan life.

As an exclusive tourist destination, Bhutan sits among the top global destinations. However, in recent times there is talk that those visiting Bhutan advice their friends back home to visit Bhutan fast, as it is changing rapidly.

We have always seen an increasing trend of visitors except when there is a global economic slowdown. This year, as of now, the number of tourist arrivals for the fall season has dropped. The overall drop so far is about 14.6 percent. The peak season has just begun and we can expect the number to increase. The drop in arrivals is attributed to the massive earthquake in April in neighbouring Nepal and the recent bomb blast in Bangkok, Thailand. This could be true as most tourists plan their visit to Bhutan with other countries in the region.

But this also doesn’t mean that we can relax and expect arrivals to increase when situations improve in the region. It is a good time to reckon how we can make Bhutan the favoured exclusive tourist destination. If Myanmar and Sri Lanka are fast emerging as new destinations, the competition is going to be stiff.

This provides a food for thought for the tourism industry and decision makers. No amount of marketing will help if Bhutan fails as a favoured tourist destination because we have nothing to offer. If our rural landscape is changing because roads have cut virgin forests and towns are cropping everywhere, there won’t be much to see. This is not to say that we have to sacrifice development to please tourists, but the change we are seeing will have implications, especially if it is not planned properly.

What we have today like dzongs and monasteries is not our doing. It is a treasure from the past. We are turning lush paddy fields to concrete jungle, losing our tradition like Bhutanese architecture. The culture that we take pride in is diluting, evident from the influences of other cultures.

However, the success of the industry should not be judged by the arrivals. A bigger success would be presenting a unique Bhutan. How we do it needs collective thinking. We need not set records every year. We already have a policy to not flood Bhutan with tourists.

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