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Karma Tshering presents the concept of the society at the first meeting
Karma Tshering presents the concept of the society at the first meeting

A society for sustainable tourism

Come June, Bhutan will have a think tank to raise an independent voice in matters related to tourism.

Calling it the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS), the platform is conceptualized by an eco-tourism specialist, Karma Tshering, who has a PhD in tourism and more than 10 years of working in eco-tourism, with members from myriad entities.

The society would start as a web-based, where all local reports and studies would be uploaded. It will be launched on June 2 next year.

A conceptual discussion with more than 25 members from various stakeholders including Tourism Council of Bhutan, Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators, Royal Thimphu College, hotel operators, Austrian Cooperation Agency, Gross National Happiness Commission, forest department, UN, and private individuals was held on December 23.

“The feedback was that such forum was necessary to promote discourse and stimulate ideas and commentaries on certain initiatives and decisions,” Karma Tshering said.

“It would act like a think tank sharing views on the issues related to tourism,” he said. “We’ll raise our views but leave it up to the government to decide.”

He said that at present, tourism agencies are not having enough feedback and research and they are under pressure to make a decision and provide views.

The society would have two-tier membership: a management group comprising of select edprofessionals and another group of voluntary members.

The meetings would be theme-based and conducted whenever necessary. The forum could discuss and share expertise on eco-lodges, and other aspects of tourism.

For instance, the decision of Zhemgang dzongkhag tshogdu deciding people should wear gho during office hours, the society would provide its professional views on how the decision could affect tourism.

“Our tourism foundations have been laid well but increasingly the threat is our people are looking for short gains and the foundation has been shaken quite a bit,” he said. “Until we have these debates and discussions I’m afraid that we’ll go looking for short-term benefits and lose the sustainability.”

He said that he is becoming more apprehensive. “While many tourists return satisfied with their visit, there are more complaints, which is worrying.”

According to him, it is not the government alone that has the knowledge base today. “It has spread to so many people. The wisdom really emerges from the people who are in the field and which is key in tourism.”

He said at present only agencies speak or debate the issues of tourism while there are many not necessarily associated with these institutions but have experience and the knowledge to participate in such debates.

He said that the world might not look up to us. “The most challenging thing for tourism today is marketing but Bhutan without any efforts enjoys a high-level publicity because of the strong conservation and tourism policies.”

He said that the common platform would also serve as a point of interaction between various stakeholders and in knowledge about each other’s plans and priorities, which will contribute to making tourism sustainable.

Tshering Palden

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One comment

  1. If it’s packaged drinking water to order, there is nothing much different to expect or complain about. When it’s the food menu having varieties to offer, it’s the guest deciding the quality for likes or dislikes eventually. But that’s in my immature opinion.

    I have this feeling that tourism in Bhutan has been receiving similar category of tourists even though scopes are distributed like foreign and regional. And the visiting tourists do contribute to tourism planning with their expectations, satisfactions and disappointments. But for that to be factored in as meaningful feedbacks for tourism development, one is expected to target variety in terms of guests expected. If one is expecting the same faces, they all mostly talk the same things again and again. That’s one very realistic observation.

    So I really hope that such a platform planned should also actively involve the visiting tourists as they are the genuine ambassadors for what is usually perceived as Tourism Bhutan. Or you think of providing the locals more activities for a recreational break from the usual life. If I am regularly celebrating my weekends at the same entertainment centres weeks after weeks doing mostly the same things; I can’t expect a visiting tourist to enjoy that same experience with me all the time. And this is exactly where a tourism agency probably needs to think getting access to different tourism expectations.

    A platform like this proposed can actually work as a catalyst in bringing in such refreshing ideas and expectations from a tourist point of view. Otherwise, all the developments gets planned and happens in just one direction only. If there are resorts around; from every resort one can see the same view and can expect the same hospitality levels as standards to be maintained. Even that’s in my very personal opinion only. It’s just another point of view.

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