6,000 International Tourists Visit Bhutan Since September, Tourism Department Projects 98,000 tourists in 2023

Around 6,000 international tourists paying the new Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) visited the country since the reopening of borders six months ago. Another 7000 tourists paying the old tariff visited the country in the same period. To attract more tourists, the Tourism Department is working on introducing family-oriented tourism products and making Bhutan an all-season destination.

Since 23rd September last year, up until yesterday, the country received around 31,000 tourists. More than half of them were from the region. Just before the pandemic, in 2019 the country recorded the highest number of tourist arrivals at more than 315 thousand.

The Tourism Department’s Director General says the tourism status after the pandemic cannot be compared to pre-pandemic levels since the tourism industry has to be rebuilt from the ground up after being hit by the pandemic. This, he says is a huge task for all those involved in the tourism sector and will take time to revive it.

Maintaining a good infrastructure standard, proper hygiene and waste management are also top priorities according to the director.

“For our country, the number of tourist arrivals today is significant compared to other countries. Regardless, with the current economic issues we are facing, people consider the number to be very low. But if we look at the economy of not just ours but globally as well, we can see that it is not doing very well especially due to war, conflicts and the aftermath of the pandemic. So this has reduced the tourist number everywhere. Even countries that are far more advanced economically also have very low tourist arrival,” he said.

Bhutan has been traditionally positioned as a two-season destination with the majority of the visitors arriving in spring and autumn.

According to the chief of the Marketing Department, there is potential to position Bhutan as an all-year-round destination and incorporate family-friendly facilities to attract more visitors.

The Tourism Department is now working towards intensive marketing and promotion to improve tourist arrivals. They plan to achieve this with the help of foreign experts.

Carissa Nimah the Chief Marketing Officer at the department says while Bhutan needs to create itineraries around families on one hand, there is also a need to make sure that the hotels and tour operators in the country are capable of catering to families. “For instance, maybe it is time to look at having more family facilities in hotels like children’s rooms and children’s dens. Maybe allocate one room as a children’s club.”

She also said more nannies and babysitters have to be employed in hotels besides coming up with nicely designed, special children’s menus. “Not just full of fried foods but healthy meals for children. So, I think there is potential.”

In the street, it is difficult to spot tourists even though the tourist season has already kicked off. BBS came across Jalynn Bosley in a hotel that visited Bhutan four times in the past. She is currently travelling with her international students on the old fee. She says even though it will be a challenge to convince the tourists of the worth of the increased SDF if the tourists understand the benefit of the new fee on the local people and the country, they would be more willing to visit Bhutan.

“I think it was long overdue for the policy to be shifted. I know that the SDF has been the same since 1974, so it totally warrants for the price to increase. You can’t come to Bhutan and not fall in love with this place and the people. It’s an incredible place, so I fully support it going up. I wish that it was a little less of a jump at first and a little less of a shock but you know, I think in time Bhutan is still worth coming to despite the increase in the SDF,” she said.

 The department projects to receive 98,000 tourists this year even though the number of tourist arrivals is low at the moment. The department hopes to achieve the projection by the end of the year. Moreover, the department expects the number of guests will be back to 2019 levels by 2025. It forecasts 23,000 Indian tourists and 80,000 international tourists to visit the country in the next two years.

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