Bhutan’s much lauded tourism policy, is not anymore “high value, low volume.” It’s now “high value, low impact.”
The “low impact” on culture and environment as the tourism council of Bhutan (TCB) calls,” has come at a time when the government has committed to increase the “volume” of tourists visiting Bhutan. In the next two years, it aims to bring in 100,000 tourists, which is about one-sixth of the country’s population.
For more than three decades, the policy of “low volume” has regulated tourist arrivals in the country. With that, it minimised the “impact” and brought in a “manageable” number that its limited infrastructure could support. Bhutan otherwise has no restriction on the number of tourists visiting.
The government’s commitment has made Bhutan open its doors wider. Its “high value” includes not only “dollar paying” but also “high end regional” tourists. It has diversified tourism products from culture to nature, with TCB describing Bhutan, the “spiritual land” as a “trekker’s paradise and an environmentalist’s dream.”
Tourists can now visit protected areas, reserves and remote communities. Domestic airports are coming up, so that those parts of the country, that before could be reached after being on the road for days would now be easily reached.
Hotels have been rated and those that wish to house tourist, upgraded. TCB has also signed “deals” with seven international tour operators, names of which haven’t been disclosed for “business reasons.” The operators are those, which haven’t marketed Bhutan before.
To market Bhutan, it has participated at the fruit and tourism fair in Kolkata in 2009, outbound travel mart (OTM) show in Mumbai and the ITB Berlin, a travel trade show early this year. A happiness event in Germany was also held in July this year to market Bhutan to the Europeans.
All these initiatives are expected to generate 25,000 jobs but how, where and when is not known.
Explaining the change, TCB said that, the slogan “high value, low impact” clearly explains Bhutan’s cautious “product and values led” approach to tourism development.
In order to maintain high value, TCB said that the government would continue using financial mechanisms to control volumes. While low impact would be maintained by ensuring that visitors have a sense of care for Bhutanese culture and environment.
“Volume is a relative term and can vary,” said TCB. “And we think low negative socio-cultural and environmental impact is more specific, regarding our tourism development.”
Bhutan, said officials has successfully promoted itself as an exclusive long-stay destination for tourists, with a tourist on average spending about USD 330 a day and staying about eight days in the country. The index is calculated by the total international tourist arrivals in a year divided by the country’s population.
But Bhutan still has the lowest tourist intensity index at 0.06, much lower than most comparable countries, said the website on accelerating Bhutan’s socio-economic development (ABSD).
How much impact the change in policy would have on the index or in increasing the volume, which tour operators argue would increase anyway, is yet to be seen.
Source: Sonam Pelden (Kuensel)