Bhutan Revises Tourism Policy

The government and the stakeholders agree on an ambitious plan to bring in 100,000 high-end tourists by year 2012.

Bhutan will be sold as a high quality and low impact tourist destination which draws visitors throughout the year by building the necessary infrastructure, setting high benchmarks for delivery of services, diversifying products, and ensuring that its benefits reach a larger segment of the population.

The consultative meeting between the stakeholders of tourism and the government in Thimphu yesterday decided on numerous reforms that will take the industry forward in the years to come. Bhutan will be positioned as a responsible, unique, authentic and quality destination anchored on GNH philosophy with minimum negative impact on natural and cultural heritage. A nine-pronged approach will be adopted to bring in 100,000 tourists by 2012. These include developing an additional 2-3 circuits, promoting new products and defining Bhutan’s brand identity, value proposition and market to target audience. Aviation capacities will be built internationally and locally with domestic helicopter/airline services commencing soon to key destinations.

On the supply creation front, land for the new circuits will be identified, and FDI will be encour­aged to develop hotels and resorts. Heritage proper­ties and home stays will be developed through private and community partner­ships.

The tariff will be raised from US$ 200 per person per day to US$ 250 from 2011. Royalty for children below 12 years of age and for those who visit the Kingdom on tour packages exceeding 15 days will be waived off.

To improve services in the hospitality industry, hotels will be classified on the basis of stars and their facilities upgraded. Mandatory service stand­ards will be developed and strictly implemented. A capacity for an additional 2,500 beds will be created.

Tourism infrastruc­ture will be developed in three areas – in the center (Bumthang and Trongsa), east (Trashiyangtse and Trashigang) and the south (Manas and Zhemgang). Lands are being acquitted to develop hotels in these areas.

Tourists will soon be able to enter and exit through Samdrup Jong­khar and Gelephu while Merak and Sakten are be­ing opened to tourism.

Protection of environ­ment, culture and com­munities will be empha­sised, and tour guides and operators will be certi­fied. Amenities for visa processing online, credit card and tourist informa­tion will be developed.

Serious efforts will be made to remove the off-season and peak season tags that have adversely affected the tourist inflow.

Outlining the govern­ment’s visions and plans, Prime Minister Lyonch­hen Jigmi Y. Thinley urged the stakeholders to think of the bigger picture by transcending indi­vidual interests. Bhutan’s status as a “special and unique” destination must be preserved at all costs.

The achievements so far were not very laudable, he said. In its 36 years, tourism’s contribution to the GDP was a measly six percent and the employ­ment generated only 2% of the total.

Moreover, it was also highly concentrated in the west where Paro, Puna­kha and Thimphu alone taking a whopping 90% of the bed nights. The infrastructure was also not very well developed.

“So much more we have to do for a country boasting high quality, low volume tourism,” he said.

He asked the tour op­erators to break out of the comfort zone and contrib­ute more to the economy and share its benefits with more Bhutanese.

By: Kezang Dorji
Source: Bhutan Today

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