Gasa to make the next Royal Highland Festival even more attractive

Damchoe Pem/ Thimphu

After holding a successful 5th Edition of the Royal Highland Festival in Laya, Gasa, the dzongkhag is already making plans to make the 6th edition of the festival more attractive and momentous.

The festival is not just seen as a platform to promote the culture and products of the highlanders, but it also provides an opportunity for income generation.

In just a month of advertisement, the festival has seen a total of 262 Bhutanese self-paying guests and 39 international tourists. Laya Run attracted 22 Bhutanese and 12 international participants. The number of people taking part in the run is on the rise.

In addition, Laya has total of 31 Village Homestays, and approximately more than 300 visitors can be accommodated in the homestay. During the festival, there were 10 dzongkhags presenting their products.

Gasa Dzongda, Tenzin Chophel, said that the festival has an immediate impact on the lives of the highlanders. For now, gathering and selling cordyceps is the main source of income for the Layabs and Lunaps, however, their livelihood is uncertain in the future due to climate change.

“The income generation from the cordyceps might change or there may not be any income in the future. This is uncertain. But what is certain is the income generation through tourism activities through homestays and selling their local products,” the Dzongda added.

There is no greater opportunity to generate income in a short span of time, he said, therefore, the festival gives the highlanders an opportunity to have better future.

“Having said that, there has to be proper planning in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, wherein we have enough time to advertise to both international and local tourists, and market the local produce, he said.

There is much importance given to marketing the festival ahead of time, especially to the international tourists.

“We have the potential of developing more innovative programs and culture. To do so, we need enough time. Thereby, we will immediately start working for the 6th Royal highland Festival to be held next year,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that the current homestays are okay for the average tourist, but it has to be suitable for the dollar-paying tourist as well. Therefore, plans are underway to improve the sanitation with proper toilets, and improve the food quality and bedding system.

The dzongkhag is also looking into ways to improve the connectivity of footpaths within the community so as to avoid visitors walking in the uncomfortable muddy footpath. 

“We just had little more than one month to prepare for the festival this year, which is why we were not able to attract more visitors. Nevertheless, even in a short span of time, we could get quite a good number of visitors,” the Gasa Dzongda said.

Gasa will work closely with the Tourism Council of Bhutan and tour operators on how to strategize and market the festival to the international tourists, and tourists will have the option to either stay in homestays or in tents.

However, the first priority will be to fill up the homestays. Although the primary objective of the festival is to promote and showcase the highlander’s culture and products, however, the dzongkhag also help the highlanders earn an income.

“Ultimately, our aim is also to uplift the economy of the highlanders and not to just have fun in the festival. We are hopeful of doing better next year,” he added.

The festival resumed after two years due to the pandemic. 

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