Sonam Choden / Thimphu
Bhutan reportedly received 64,028 high-end visitors in 2011 – the highest arrivals in so far. The figure shows the country almost achieved its target to bring 65,000 tourists in the year, with a growth of 56.65% over 2010.
Of the 64,028 visitors, 47,610 were the dollar-paying tourists and 1,648 high-end tourists from the neighboring countries in the region.
According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), a foreigner who pays a tariff of USD 250 is considered a tourist. “The figure of 47,610 is inclusive of the tariff payers but government officials are not included,” said the council’s officiating media focal person, Phuntsho Gyeltshen. He added that visitors are divided into different categories like business, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) visiting friends and relatives.
However, this high-end arrival figure does not include the 36,805 regional tourists and those who travelled by land into Bhutan and visited Thimphu and beyond.
Of 36,805, about 1,728 regional visitors have stayed in tourist accommodation facilities rated up to three stars and above, a TCB survey revealed.
The general secretary of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operatos (ABTO), Sonam Dorji, attributes the boom of tourism sector to ever increasing number of tour operators in the country.
He says it is an indication of local tour operators being able to market Bhutan well through travel fairs.
The tour operators are now able to create creative tour packages that attract more tourists every year, said the general secretary.
The general secretary of Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), Sangay Phurba, said tour guides are the amabssador of Bhutan to tourists. He said they play a vital role in promoting Bhutan as a travel destination.
He said GAB’s focus is to make tour guides more competent and professional.
The general secretary of Hotel Association of Bhutan (HAB), Tashi Rabgyel, said TCB should not consider only visitors who come via air as high-end tourists.
He said the council should come up with a proper policy to account regional tourists. He says the survey TCB did based on which the number of high-end tourists was determined might not be accurate.
The information used for the survey were from Tashel data where information is collected online, the Source Markets Summary where collection of findings is summarized to a particular source market and the Exit Survey (collecting data by interviewing departing tourists for their first-hand feedback three times a year during two peak seasons).
The figure, 47,610 was derived from Tashel data while processing for the visas. When the tourists pay details are recorded. 16,418 was the figure based on the information from Druk Air and the permits issued by the department of Immigration. The information were also used to arrive at 36, 805 regional tourist arrivals.
“We always aspire to achieve the target,” said Sonam Dorji.
Tourism receipts from international visitors (dollar paying) alone generated USD $47.68mn as direct gross earnings, which is an increase of 32.52% from 2010.
Of this, $14.89mn was earned as direct revenue for the government through ‘royalty’. These earnings do not include revenue from other sectors like airline, handicraft, and additional out-of-pocket spending.
Meanwhile, TCB targets to bring in 100,000 tourists in 2013. The council hopes to accomplish it.