A Bo­nanza is Wait­ing

Bhutan needs to im­prove its tourism in­fra­struc­ture so that vis­i­tors can en­joy its snow­capped peaks, green val­leys and monas­ter­ies.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Zu­fah An­sari

Bhutan needs to im­prove its tourism in­fra­struc­ture so that vis­i­tors can en­joy its snow­capped peaks, green val­leys and monas­ter­ies.

Bhutan takes pride in re­main­ing an ‘un­touched’ land for cen­turies. The coun­try, with a pop­u­la­tion of over 730,000, had kept it­self well hid­den from the world un­til a few decades back. It opened to the out­side world in1974 and de­cided to de­velop its tourism in­dus­try to al­le­vi­ate un­em­ploy­ment and boost de­vel­op­ment.

Ini­tially, there was only one en­tity which pro­vided all kinds of travel and tourism-re­lated ser­vices – the govern­ment-con­trolled Bhutan Travel Agency. But the pri­vate sec­tor soon fol­lowed suit, al­beit at a very slow pace. By 1991, around 33 tour oper­a­tors were func­tion­ing in Bhutan.

Since then, the in­dus­try has ex­pe­ri­enced a par­a­digm shift. With the po­ten­tial to be­come one of the top tourist des­ti­na­tions of the world, Bhutan’s tourism in­dus­try is all set to be­come the sec­ond-largest in­dus­try of the coun­try. Till now, most of the coun­try’s tourism ap­proaches were di­rected to the west and cen­tral Bhutan. But ef­forts are un­der­way to ex­pand and de­velop the east­ern re­gions of the coun­try as well for tourism pur­poses.

Tourists are flock­ing to this beau­ti­ful king­dom to en­joy its snow­capped peaks, green val­leys, monas­ter­ies, hand­i­crafts and a rich, well-pre­served her­itage. Some fa­mous tourism spots are Paro, Thim­phu, the Pha­jod­ing Tem­ple, the Zangdo Pelri Tem­ple and Pu­nakha.

Apart from the en­chant­ing land­scape and his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments, eco-tourism is also gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among tourists. With more than 165 an­i­mal species and 770 species of birds, Bhutan is home to 60 per­cent of the en­demic species of the east­ern Hi­malayan re­gion.

In ad­di­tion to reap­ing the ben­e­fits of a thriv­ing tourism in­dus­try, Bhutan is also work­ing to­wards for­mu­lat­ing po­lices to counter neg­a­tive el­e­ments that are a byprod­uct of mass tourism. One such pol­icy is the pro­mo­tion of sus­tain­able tourism.

Bhutan banned moun­taineer­ing in the 1980s. Trekkers can only visit base camps while eco-tourism is strictly mon­i­tored to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­men­tal and spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance of many ar­eas.

De­spite be­ing a rel­a­tively new in­dus­try, tourism has man­aged to bring in $227 mil­lion in rev­enues to Bhutan in 2012, with the num­ber of tourists in­creas­ing from 40,873 tourists in 2010 to 105,414 tourists in 2012. Among them, 53,504 were in­ter­na­tional tourists, while the re­main­ing 51,910 were re­gional vis­i­tors.

Al­though a fast-grow­ing tourism in­dus­try is an in­di­ca­tion of grow­ing prof­its and de­vel­op­ment, it also brings with it se­ri­ous chal­lenges re­gard­ing in­fras­truc­tural ca­pac­ity, flex­i­bil­ity and adapt­abil­ity to both the grow­ing num­ber of tourists and their chang­ing de­mands.

One of the ma­jor chal­lenges that the in­dus­try faces is the lack of re­sources to up­grade air and road ac­cess. The in­flux of tourists into the coun­try has not been matched by an equal amount of in­vest­ment to in­crease and im­prove trans­porta­tion ser­vices. Cur­rently, Bhutan has only one air­line, the Druk Air, which caters to tourists.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion, es­pe­cially in cen­tral and east­ern Bhutan, is an­other area of con­cern. Be­sides trans­porta­tion and lodg­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a com­mon prob­lem as many ar­eas of the coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence lit­tle to no in­ter­net cov­er­age, slow in­ter­net speed and limited band­width.

Non-ac­cep­tance of credit cards and lim­i­ta­tions in other modes of mon­e­tary trans­ac­tions also re­stricts the move­ment of tourists. This re­sults in vis­i­tors form­ing clus­ters at a few des­ti­na­tions that are fully equipped in terms of req­ui­site fa­cil­i­ties.

Keep­ing these is­sues in view, the Tourism Coun­cil Board of Bhutan is for­mu­lat­ing strate­gies to sus­tain the in­dus­try against the chang­ing dy­nam­ics of tourist in­flux. It aims at ex­pe­dit­ing the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of in­fra­struc­ture which in­cludes roads, trek routes, camp­sites, bridges, re­strooms, bik­ing trails and bird watch­ing camp­sites.

The Board would also do well to or­ga­nize pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties such as travel fairs and roads shows to dis­play Bhutan’s tourism po­ten­tial and poli­cies as well as tourism at­trac­tions. The writer is an un­der­grad­u­ate mar­ket­ing stu­dent with a strong in­ter­est in cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

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