Really not a bad start to the year for the country and especially the tourism sector, given that Bhutan has only been selected as one of the three finalists in the “Destination Stewardship.”
The Destination Stewardship Award goes to a destination which successfully demonstrates a program of sustainable tourism, while incorporating social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits.
The award is categorized for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards and it is hosted by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
This year’s awards panel received 133 applications from more than 46 countries on six continents, with Bhutan shortlisted to top three of this pool.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has already started to come up with new activities to be warm and hospitable hosts to the tourists.
But before that, said the Joint Director of Marketing and Promotion Department, TCB Chhimmy Pem, “couple of challenges needs to be addressed”.
She said the regional spread of tourist sites and introduction of more products are the main challenges for the TCB. Therefore from 2013, TCB have already done a thorough research and a proper study to have regional balance, in consultant with the Dzongkhag Administration.
“At the moment the tourist site is mostly concentrated in the western regions and in eastern regions we have limited hotels,” she added.
The TCB has plans to encourage more home-stays in the rural regions and some of the rural houses in Trashiyangtse have already been selected as venues for the tourists. Henceforth, tour operators and tourist should not face problems of not having proper hotels or lodging facilities.
Phobjikha the best roosting place for the Black-necked Cranes have identified 20 houses as home stay locations for tourists.
“It will be started by this year as villagers are being trained on hospitality in order to host the guests positively,” said Gewog Gup Jamtsho.
Joint Director Chhimmy Pem said “Butterfly tour in east and Community Based tourism is being planned.”
She added that Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang and Nabji-Korphu in Trongsa are some of the sites selected for community-based tourism. This is mainly to have regionally balanced visits for tourists.
“Tourism is not a substitute for the livelihood but it’s a supplement for people’s livelihood,” she stressed.
Tourism Officer Phuntsho Gyeltshen said the TCB had worked to come-up with new trekking routes. The study is meant to introduce old trade routes as trekking routes for tourists.
Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar and Bumthang to Zhemgang are some of the routes selected for trekking routes.
Feasibility studies in consultation with respective dzongkhag administrations and local leaders were undertaken to identify the routes. “We have asked them to come up with their prioritized sites too,” said Phuntsho Gyeltshen.
A substantial increase in terms of employment opportunities is a real possibility since Bhutan is listed as one of the top tourist destinations for 2013 in popular magazines such as Travelers Magazines of National Geographic, New York Times travel magazines and Forbes magazine.
The officiating Director of corporate performance Department under TCB, Kinley Wangdi said as there is more number of tourist visits, the services should be good and consequently the employment opportunities will never decrease.
In 2011 there were 23,095 employment opportunities under the tourism industry and in 2012 it increased to 25,987.
“We cannot have an immediate benefit but within these 5 years we will have a good development from the tourism industry,” he added. The TCB expects more tour operators from Trashigang, Gelephu and other southern regions.
In 2011, the total tourist visitors were 100,833 and in 2012 it increased to 105,414. And it’s obvious that this year tourist visitors will be more than that.
The TCB to this end has decentralized the tourism development in Zhemgang and Haa regions. It has even come up with a circuit approach whereby 6 eastern dzongkhags are merged into two circuits with a specific theme. Similar approach has been taken with other three regions also.
“For the southern regions TCB will mainly focus on Manas as eco-tourism and community based tourism,” said Kinley Wangdi.
Community-based tourism will mainly promote culture, local festivals and natural tourism. Similarly other regions are also chosen with a specific theme and would promote tourism in a balanced manner.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution from tourism sector in 2011 was US$ 152mn and 89% of tourists were satisfied with their visit to Bhutan.