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April 21, 2021

Bhutan’s Tourism Mantra: High Value, Low Volume

  • Dorji Dhradhul
    Director-General, Tourism Council of Bhutan

Covid-19 has become more pronounced for the year 2020 and for more than one year the whole world is hard hit by this pandemic. Bhutan and Nepal share the same woes caused by this pandemic that crippled the tourism sector in both countries. We know how Nepal’s campaign for Visit Nepal 2020 was derailed due to this pandemic.

We are still not sure that when will this pandemic disappear. We hope that things return to normal. But we don’t know how long it will impact tourism. Both Nepal and Bhutan lost the chance of tourism due to Covid-19, despite Lonely planet highlighting tourist destinations in Nepal and Bhutan.

In Bhutan, the Covid-19 has also allowed us to work on this. The cordial relation between Nepal and Bhutan has also been further extended during this pandemic time. In 2019 around 1000 Nepali visited Bhutan and in 2020 also score of them visited Bhutan.
In Bhutan, we talk about three things –the Royal family, the country represented by the national flag, and the people. Being guided by our visionary King, Bhutan is known for different paradigms of development since 1970. His majesty the Jigme Singye Wangchuck the fourth king of Bhutan who is the father of Gross National Happiness (GNH), said GNH should be practiced as the main development philosophy instead of Gross Development Product (GDP). There are 4 pillars of GNH with 9 domains, 33 indicators, and 123 variables to measure our development index. We don’t want to pursue just economic development.

Globalization of GNH has happened upon its endorsement by the United Nations as the international agenda for sustainable development.

High value, Low volume tourism (HVLV) policy of Bhutan

Happiness is the tagline for Bhutan in tourism. It is just the pursuit of happiness and not a claim to have achieved it. But the main point is that everyone around the world should pursue this gross national happiness as its development philosophy. Therefore, any policy intervention in Bhutan should pass through GNH. Bhutan tourism policy has been guided by the policy of “High value, Low volume tourism” (HVLV).

We are today very happy to get this guiding principle of tourism policy. This policy will continue to eternity. A high value means our tourists should get what they should get in terms of facilities when they stay here in Bhutan. Low volume means sustainable tourism. (Happiness is a place). We are not saying that all tourists coming to Bhutan are happy. But most of them are happy is what our policy is about.

For Bhutan the underlying principles of HVLV mean Happiness of citizens and tourists, sustainability of tourism and national development, inclusive and equitable features in place, cultural and environmental preservation and promotion, immersive, mindful, responsible, having quality over quantity, beyond revenue and receipts, less is more.

Any tourism activity to Bhutan must be pre-arranged with tour operators in Bhutan. Prepaid tour costs for a tourist visa must be ensured. 250 dollars per day is the cost of a visa for a stay in Bhutan which includes hotels up to three-star with guides and good facilities of hospitality.

A sustainable development fee of USD 65 is also taken that goes to the development of the country. Bhutan is the only country neutral to carbon. But Bhutan has restricted climbing above 6000 for the mountaineers. It has its highest unclimbed mountain in the world –Gangkar Phuensum 7570m because our tourism is beyond revenue.

Post COVID-19 tourism

For the post-COVID-19 tourism decade to revive, we are talking about individual tourism, not just mass tourism. We just need not think of rethinking but just have to reinforce the policy of GNH.
We are focusing on culture and nature. We have realized that we have to focus and promote domestic tourism to sustain tourism under the existing situations. We are thinking of reviving tourism by 3rd April 2021. We recently had the visit of the assistant general secretary of the UN.

We are going to organize the Ultimate race for climate action on October 13, 2021, to bring the attention of the world to climate change and its impacts. Our guests who visit Bhutan always say, ‘Bhutan is different –authentic and original’.

– This article is based on the views expressed at a virtual dialogue that was moderated by Highlights Tourism’s Creative Editor Anita Gurung.

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