In­cen­tivize tourism in the east

Business Bhutan - - Editorial -

Tourism in Bhutan has come a long way since the corona­tion of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo when the coun­try first of­fi­cially opened to tourism in 1974. Since then the num­bers of tourists have soared from a few hun­dreds to mil­lions to­day.

Be­sides the num­bers, tourism has been piv­otal to the na­tion in terms of rev­enue gen­er­a­tion, em­ploy­ment cre­ation, pro­mot­ing Bhutanese arts, cul­ture and tra­di­tions, show­cas­ing Bhutan to the out­side world, and up­lift­ing the liveli­hoods of peo­ple in places that are thronged by for­eign tourists. But as we delve into the ben­e­fits, it is os­ten­si­ble that the east­ern re­gion of the coun­try is yet to reap the fruits of this sec­tor which are hith­erto en­joyed by the west­ern re­gion of the coun­try.

Un­equiv­o­cally, east­ern Bhutan is one of the least ex­plored re­gions of the king­dom un­like its west­ern coun­ter­parts such as Paro, Thim­phu, Pu­nakha, and Wang­due in the west, and Trongsa and Bumthang in cen­tral Bhutan.

It is be­fit­ting and timely, there­fore, that ini­tia­tives are be­ing ex­plored and un­der­taken to pro­mote tourism in the east. One re­cent pro­posal has come in the form of the govern­ment propos­ing to waive off the daily roy­alty of US$ 65 a day per tourist visit­ing the east­ern Dzongkhags in the coun­try. Such a move was rea­soned con­sid­er­ing that only about two per­cent of tourists that come to Bhutan visit east­ern Bhutan and the govern­ment has promised to aug­ment this to around 20%.

Re­cently, the Tourism Coun­cil of Bhutan has been or­ga­niz­ing fa­mil­iar­iza­tion tours for tour op­er­a­tors and guides to pro­mote sa­cred sites and tourists’ at­trac­tions in Mon­gar and Lhuntse as part of their ini­tia­tive to pro­mote tourism in the east. It is a good ini­tia­tive that tour op­er­a­tors and guides have been brought on board for this ex­er­cise. As it goes with­out say­ing, tour op­er­a­tors dic­tate when it comes to places and at­trac­tions a tourist is likely to visit while in Bhutan since they are re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing the tour itineraries and the guides too in ex­e­cut­ing those itineraries. There­fore, tour op­er­a­tors can play a mam­moth role in pro­mot­ing uni­form dis­tri­bu­tion of eco­nomic ben­e­fits from the tourism sec­tor, es­pe­cially in the east.

This is also be­cause of the mere fact that most tour pack­ages that are sold to for­eign tourists still con­tinue to be con­cen­trated only within the Dzongkhags that are tra­di­tion­ally tourist-rich. There are ob­vi­ous rea­sons too. East has its own prob­lems from poor ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture to tourist ameni­ties, bad road con­di­tions and un­re­li­able air con­nec­tiv­ity, al­beit the huge tourism po­ten­tial.

In­cen­tiviz­ing the tour op­er­a­tors pro­mot­ing the east can be a so­lu­tion, there­fore, to pro­mote tourism in the east, but most im­por­tantly we need to have ba­sic ameni­ties for tourists ad­e­quately as we en­deavor to ac­cel­er­ate de­vel­op­ment of tourism in the east. The recog­ni­tion that the east must reap the ben­e­fits of the tourism sec­tor and the si­mul­ta­ne­ous plans and pro­posed mea­sures to achieve this is a good be­gin­ning, at least for now.

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