The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operator (ABTO) launched a low carbon tourism project for sustainable tourism in February this year.
It is funded by the European Union (EU) Switch Asia Programme which is the largest international donor and also the strongest global advocate of sustainable development.
The EU Switch Asia Programme supports Asian countries to “switch” to sustainable growth patterns so as to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, the use of natural resources, solid and water waste and other pollutants. The programme is currently funding 45 projects in 15 Asian countries.
The specific objective of the three and half year project is ‘to promote sustainable production and consumption practices across the tourism chain of Bhutan coupled with sustainable livelihood development.’
“Tourism is the first industry in Bhutan to take up low carbon activities and that’s why we are calling it low carbon tourism,” said the General Secretary of ABTO, Sonam Dorji.
The project contributes to the government’s commitment to remain carbon neutral and is in line with Bhutan’s national strategy for green growth.
The key project activities include establishing low-carbon tourism public-private partnership, development of 20 low carbon tourism products and creating markets for these products, capacity building of stakeholders, training of trainers, and training of industry over a total of 50 workshops.
The project targets tour operators, hotels, guest houses, tour guides, transport operators, handicrafts, cottage industries, restaurants and Bhutanese service providers.
“It benefits everyone in the tourism industry but the only challenge is to get more participants and encourage everyone to join this scheme,” said the Secretary General of Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB), Sangay Phurba.
The General Secretary of Hotel Association of Bhutan (HAB), Tashi Rabgyel, said that “the scheme will be very beneficial as it will reduce the overall cost of operations and provide us an opportunity to position ourselves in the market with low carbon products as all the travelers are going for the eco-friendly products”.
The first phase of the project which is to conduct an environmental survey of the tourism industry will cover 500 industries and questions for the survey have already been developed with the help of international experts. From next week , the survey will be initiated.
The data collected will give the stakeholders information whereby they will be able to assess the current status of various areas in the tourism industry.
A series of awareness programs will also be held in tourist locations across the country.
These programs will disseminate information about the project, the advantages and disadvantages, the market benefits and how it will benefit the society.
The project can make Bhutan a low carbon tourism destination by bringing all the tourism industries together to develop 20 local low carbon tourism Bhutanese products/packages.
The General Secretary of ABTO also said that promotion and marketing would be done through these packages.
The project will be sustained with a carbon credit scheme where the industries will be compensated for the emissions they do not produce through monetary compensation.
“The participants will also be issued a certificate saying carbon emission is nullified,” added Sonam Dorji.
The project budget comes approximately to 1 mn Euro from the EU Switch Asia Programme which is 90% of the total budget and also 100,000-200,000 Euros from different partners and stakeholders.
The project stakeholders are Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), National Environment Commission (NEC),Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division, (NRED) and Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) among others.