Regulating regional tourism

For some time now, there has been a debate on liberalizing Bhutan’s tourism tariff but most have not given enough attention to the real challenge of the rise of regional tourists.
Tariff paying tourists whether they potentially just pay the USD 65 dollar tariff or continue to come as part of a USD 250 dollar package are part of Bhutan’s timeless ‘high value and low volume’ tourism policy.
Apart from the revenue to the government, these tariff paying tourists are well regulated and have to come with tour guides and use Bhutanese vehicles and manpower. The tourists are generally older and looking for some quite pictures and cultural experience.
The dramatic rise in the number of regional tourists threatens to upset the very foundations of Bhutan’s high value and low volume tourism policy. It poses environmental, cultural, safety and infrastructural challenges.
The main reason is the lack of regulations, monitoring and the absence of any broad policy for regional tourists.
It is now high time that Bhutan’s policy makers factor in regional tourists and their impact in Bhutan’s tourism policies.
This is important because Bhutan cannot afford to become another Darjeeling. Once upon a time Darjeeling enjoyed international fame as the ‘Queen of the Hills’. By the 1980’s and 90’s the growth of unregulated mass tourism converted the title to the ‘Queen of the dustbins,’ quoted cynically even by locals.
Mass regional and low end unregulated tourism, apart from having a strong negative cultural impact, also leads to generation of high amounts of waste and sewage. Bhutan currently is struggling to even manage its current waste and sewage problem.
Resources like land and even water become very scarce as cheap hotels and restaurants are built everywhere and consume these resources.
The roads will be full of traffic and there will be higher air and noise pollution.
It will only be a matter of time before Bhutan loses its exclusive destination tag and tariff paying tourists start staying away.
The time for action is now before it is too late.
“It’s not that I feel above them (tourists) in any way, but that the very places they patronize are destroyed by their affection.”
Tahir Shah

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