Even though we are a small and landlocked country hidden in the folds of the mighty Himalayas, Bhutan is today counted among the top high-end tourist destinations in the world. We have earned this space thanks largely to our sensible tourism and conservation policies. It took dedication and earnest efforts.
However, our good sense, wisdom and sagacity seem to have abandoned us overnight. We adhere strongly to our high value, low impact/volume tourism policy still. Or do we? And our aim is to promote Bhutan as an exclusive travel destination based on Gross National Happiness values. Is Bhutan really an exclusive travel destination today?
Tourism is the biggest revenue earner after hydropower. It is also one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. According to a latest report, tourism registered 16.21 percent growth, which translates to 155,121 arrivals. Of the total number of arrivals, 57,537 were international visitors and 97,584 were from the regional market. However, there is a need to look at these numbers from the perspective of management, concerning particularly regional tourism.
When we talk about tourists from the region visiting Bhutan, we are talking about visitors from the neighbouring countries of SAARC, who enter the country unguided and drive their own vehicles without any restriction in any part of the country. Whatever the revenue from regional tourism, such unmanaged openings could have negative impact in the future. What about our policy of high value, low impact/volume tourism? How do we promote Bhutan as an exclusive travel destination based on Gross National Happiness values?
At a time when tourism is growing to be a vibrant sector, there is a need for strong regulation and policy concerning regional tourists. They should hire and be accompanied by professional tour guides; we should monitor carrying capacity of vehicles they bring in; impose green taxes and not allow vehicles that are older than five years. Already communities are raising issues of environmental pollution due to regional tourism, which happens largely because of unguided tour.
These are small but vital adjustments that we could employ. Otherwise, international arrivals and sectors that are linked with tourism too will suffer.