A group of 36 tour operators from India visited Bhutan and met different authorities to discuss ways to promote the country as a quality tourist destination. In Bhutan for the familiarization trip (FAM) from January 5 -12, Lohit Sharma, an Indian tour operator from Assam brought 36 other tour operators with him and they appreciated the policy of ‘high quality and low volume tourism ‘.
“Our initiative to bring in quality tourists would help in fulfilling Bhutan’s noble policy,” said Lohit Sharma, owner of Guwahati-based tourism company, who met the Prime Minister and officials from the tourism department.
Explaining the new policy, Prime Minister Lotey Tshering said that Bhutan didn’t have any written tourism policies until a couple of months ago. “We just have a statement, you all know the statement, it’s commonly used but least understood – high value, low volume,” he said. “When we say high value, we don’t mean rich tourists. When we say low volume, we don’t mean less in number.”
“When we say high value it’s not just for tourists, it’s for all of us,” he added. “We want all our guests to come to Bhutan and get a totally different experience, not a conventional five-star, seven-star feel, just a totally different feel. And we thought that feeling must come out of the unique features of Bhutan.”
In an interview with an Indian publication in 2022, Dorji Dhardhul , Director General, Tourism Council of Bhutan said ‘this concept was introduced by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck when Bhutan opened its border to international tourists in 1974. This was considered unique at a time when most other countries were focussed on mass tourism for quick economic gains Today 50 years later, this policy is now understood and appreciated. This policy aims to avoid over-tourism and ensure a balance between economic returns and non-material gains such as preservation of our environment, culture , history and resources to ensure wellness and well- being of our guests, our people and our destination’.
In the same interview, when asked why Indian tourists will be charged Rs 1, 200 as a sustainable development fee, he said ‘The raised fee will fund national investment in programmes that preserve Bhutan’s cultural tradition as well as sustainability projects, infrastructure upgrades and opportunities for youth’.
The tour operators from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi said they were impressed with the new tourism policy and that the SDF was a noble move to invest in the tourism sector and make it a high-end destination. “We are impressed by the overall scenic beauty, the environment and hospitality of Bhutanese,” Chetan Bhattarai from Assam said.
However, they did complain about the high airfares to Paro from India but also agreed that Bagdogra and Guwahati are two alternatives that can be worked upon to bring tourists to Bhutan.
On September 23 last year, Bhutan reopened its borders to the world, welcoming international guests back after more than two years. More than 8,273 Indian visitors, paying the SDF Rs. 1,200 visited Bhutan as of December 2022.
Over 50,000 people are employed in the tourism industry here and in 2020 alone, out of 28,912 tourists, around 22, 298 were from India.