Busi­ness and Plea­sure

Tourism is the name of the game in mod­ern, busi­ness-con­scious Bhutan.

Southasia - - FEATURE BHUTAN - By Sam­ina Wahid

Tourism be­came a ma­jor in­dus­try in Bhutan in the midseven­ties, founded on the prin­ci­ple of sus­tain­abil­ity in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, cul­tur­ally ac­cept­able, and eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble. Bhutan’s unique cul­ture is based on its tourism in­dus­try. The govern­ment is deeply aware of pro­tect­ing the coun­try's en­vi­ron­ment, val­ues and cul­tural tra­di­tions by pro­mot­ing tourism in line with its vi­sion of Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness (GNH). Tourism in Bhutan, as such, started with the ob­jec­tive to gen­er­ate in­come as well as in­crease the

liv­ing stan­dard of the peo­ple.

Bhutan’s tourism pol­icy of “high value, low im­pact” has helped the coun­try safe­guard its rich liv­ing cul­ture. In the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tions on travel, tourist in­flux in the King­dom has re­sulted in a neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact on Bhutan’s unique cul­ture and un­spoiled na­ture of in­ner parts of the coun­try. Pre­fer­ring higher qual­ity tourism, the num­ber of tourist is main­tained at a man­age­able level, and is ex­er­cised through a tourism pol­icy of govern­ment reg­u­lated tourist tar­iff.

Only a decade ago, some hun­dreds of tourists vis­ited the King­dom, at a fixed tar­iff of USD 150 per day. Con­sid­er­ing the tourist in­flux from all walks of life, the fee was re­vised in 2012 to USD 200 per day for lean sea­sons and USD 250 per day for peak sea­sons, in­clu­sive of a sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment fee (SDF) or roy­alty of USD 65 to the govern­ment. This is used to­wards the coun­try’s free health care, education and build­ing of tourism in­fra­struc­ture.

Bhutan’s tourism in­dus­try is flour­ish­ing at a fast pace, con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy in terms of GNH. Till now the tourism sec­tor has pro­vided em­ploy­ment to 28,000 peo­ple. In 2014, a lit­tle over 100,000 tourists vis­ited the King­dom, which helped gen­er­ate an in­come of Nu. 73 mn. In­ter­est­ingly, the in­come gen­er­a­tion from the tourism in­dus­try comes next to the hy­dropower pro­ject in­come.

In the last three years, Bhutan has seen an un­prece­dented growth in the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional tar­iff pay­ing and in­for­mal re­gional tourists mainly In­dian; which un­doubt­edly has earned mil­lions of dol­lars rev­enue for the coun­try. Bhutan’s sus­tain­abil­ity as a top tourist desti­na­tion is its ex­clu­siv­ity, which is largely de­fined by the cur­rent daily tar­iff pol­icy. How­ever, the govern­ment re­views the tourism pol­icy only, af­ter care­fully an­a­lyz­ing if it would add ben­e­fits in line with the so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the na­tion.

A good ex­am­ple is the ‘high value and low vol­ume,’ tourism pol­icy which has been the guid­ing prin­ci­ple de­vel­op­ing the tourism in­dus­try in Bhutan to en­sure the preser­va­tion of its en­vi­ron­ment, cul­ture and value sys­tem. The im­por­tance of this prin­ci­ple is rec­og­nized by the In­dian govern­ment, but when it comes to ap­ply­ing it, most of the busi­ness agents fo­cus more on in­ter­na­tional tourists than on re­gional tourists – re­sult­ing in vi­o­la­tion of tourism rules and reg­u­la­tions. This is on ac­count of all vis­i­tors who re­quire a visa, other than re­gional In­dian, Mal­di­vian and Bangladeshi na­tion­als who do not. Sim­i­larly, In­ter­na­tional tourists are guided by cer­ti­fied guides, who fol­low proper dis­ci­pline, while re­gional tourists have di­rect ac­cess to the in­ner parts of Bhutan on their own and of­ten hurt the sen­ti­ments of the lo­cals by undis­ci­plined acts, such as vis­it­ing tem­ples in im­proper dress.

A case in point, the enor­mous op­por­tu­ni­ties in the mar­ket­ing of eco­tourism prod­ucts shifted the over­rid­ing prin­ci­ple to ‘ High value, low im­pact.’ In the ab­sence of the Tourism Act, it has its lim­i­ta­tions for not elim­i­nat­ing the root cause of many is­sues the tourism in­dus­try is cur­rently fac­ing, such as the prac­tice of un­der­cut­ting tar­iff, sea­son­al­ity prob­lems, un­reg­u­lated re­gional tourism, un­even dis­tri­bu­tion of tourism ben­e­fits and so on. The Bhutanese can travel freely in In­dia, but Bhutan does rec­og­nize the im­pact from the in­creas­ing num­ber of re­gional tourists, so it has reached a point where some mea­sures need to be taken.

Bhutan’s geo-political sit­u­a­tion has been con­sid­er­ably up­graded ow­ing to In­dia, which is Bhutan’s most im­por­tant trade and de­vel­op­ment part­ner. There is no deny­ing that the econ­omy of Bhutan is de­pen­dent on In­dia for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and mi­grant la­bor­ers for de­vel­op­ment projects, es­pe­cially for road con­struc­tion. But each eco­nomic pro­gram takes into ac­count the govern­ment's de­sire to pro­tect the coun­try's en­vi­ron­ment and cul­tural tra­di­tions.

Bhutan's hy­dropower po­ten­tial and its at­trac­tion for tourists are key re­sources. The Bhutanese econ­omy is overly de­pen­dent on hy­dropower, whose ex­ports ac­count for some 45 per­cent of govern­ment rev­enues. An­other 25 per­cent con­tri­bu­tion to the GDP comes form of hy­dropower in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion. Most de­vel­op­ment projects, such as road con­struc­tion, rely on In­dian mi­grant la­bor. Given the high cap­i­tal in­vest­ment and low em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties of this sec­tor, the Govern­ment is pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives for con­trolled ex­pan­sion of tourism, and tourism­re­lated ser­vices. The sus­tain­abil­ity of the tourism in­dus­try is at stake and of­ten com­pro­mised when trav­ellers en­gage in wan­ton acts. Hence, the govern­ment en­cour­ages vis­its by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly­con­sci­en­tious tourists.

Re­view­ing the tourism pol­icy, an al­ter­nate can be to in­crease the daily min­i­mum tar­iff, while reg­u­lat­ing re­gional tourists. In that case, an SDF will also be set on a monthly ba­sis at the be­gin­ning of each year to en­sure dis­tri­bu­tion of tourist in­flow through­out the year and by re­gion. But this may not be fea­si­ble tak­ing into ac­count un­cer­tain poli­cies as labour, trade, fi­nance and in­dus­trial li­cens­ing con­tinue to ham­per for­eign in­vest­ment. An­other al­ter­nate can be lib­er­al­iz­ing the tourist quota, but it would at­tract un­wel­come vis­i­tors into the coun­try and that is not ac­cept­able. The need to have a com­pre­hen­sive tourism pol­icy is such that fo­cus is on qual­ity rather than quan­tity, with equal ben­e­fits spread to other parts of Bhutan, regulation of re­gional tourism, en­force­ment of proper pric­ing mech­a­nism and cre­ation of gain­ful em­ploy­ment.

The Bhutanese govern­ment is con­sid­er­ing tourist ac­ces­si­bil­ity to east­ern and south­ern Bhutan to avoid over-crowd­ing in the west and cen­tral dzongkhags. East­ern Bhutan is as good as un­ex­plored since only 3.6 per­cent tourists vis­ited parts of east­ern Bhutan in 2014. The govern­ment has pledged to in­crease tourist vis­its to 20 per­cent in the com­ing years, by in­creas­ing tourism in ar­eas like Sam­drupjongkhar, Samtse and Sarpang. With this plan the govern­ment needs to ad­dress con­cerns over the need of ba­sic civic ameni­ties, pro­mo­tion of his­tor­i­cal places and open­ing trek routes to tourism. In ad­di­tion, the govern­ment has pro­posed to de­velop in­cen­tives to pro­mote and en­cour­age re­peat vis­i­tors with a tar­get to achieve 10 per­cent re­peat vis­i­tors within five years. Druk Air’s “My Hap­pi­ness Re­ward,” a fre­quent flyer pro­gram is to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to travel on the air­line and at­tract re­peat vis­its. Druk Air is the only na­tional air­line, and is now ser­viced by Bhutan Air­lines and more do­mes­tic routes are to be cov­ered by both the air­lines in the near fu­ture.

From the very be­gin­ning, the Bhutanese hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try was de­signed to cater to western high­end tourists. Un­til re­cently, the need to meet the de­mand cre­ated by flour­ish­ing re­gional tourism is fore­most. The con­tri­bu­tion of tourism, the largest source of hard cur­rency earn­ing for the coun­try, is the de­vel­op­ment of cross bor­der tourism, an im­por­tant pri­or­ity for Bhutan to at­tract in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for build­ing a smart in­fra­struc­ture and pro­vid­ing ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties for the de­vel­op­ment of tourism. It goes with­out say­ing that op­por­tu­ni­ties in tourism and hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment will con­trib­ute to na­tional, re­gional and lo­cal de­vel­op­ment plans within the frame­work of GNH.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.