Highlighting some of the discussions held at the first ever National Tourism Conference, Lyonchhen (Dr.) Lotay Tshering said that there is humongous potential to take the tourism sector to the top. Lyonchhen said that going by the statistical importance given by everyone on the tourist visiting Bhutan, permitting regional tourist, and promoting Bhutan as a high-end destination, there is no clear-cut clarity on what Bhutan’s tourism policy on ‘high-value low impact’ actually means which seems to be contradicting with how the council is working.
“It is for this reason that I’ve requested the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) to come up with a sound and coherent tourism policy in place. The government is also excited to work closely with the recently appointed Director General of TCB, Dorji Dradhul and requested him to come with more vibrant initiatives to promote tourism in the country,” said Lyonchhen.
The minister of foreign affairs has been appointed as the chairman of the TCB. Lyonchhen added not only was lyonpo Tandi Dorji’s passion and caliber considered for the chairmanship, but the government also wanted it to be a collective effort and not just bequeath all the roles and responsibility to take tourism to the top only to the TCB.
“Moreover, the Prime Minister used to be the chairman of the TCB earlier, but considering the workload and engagement that comes with holding the Prime Minister’s Office, there were instances where important meetings had to be canceled. We are also planning to initiate Bhutanese embassies and ambassadors as the representatives of the tourism sector of the country where they’ll also work towards promoting tourism outside the country,” said Lyonchhen.
“We have kept most of the collaborating partners of the TCB as it is, except few changes where we swapped home ministry in place of the economic minister. And in order to promote regional balance tourism, the Director General of TCB upon our request has chosen two Dzongdas representing the East and South regions of the country to work on tourism development. For now, Sarpang and Trashigang Dzongdas have been identified as the interim representatives to promote tourism in their respective regions,” said Lyonchhen.
However, the Prime Minister made it clear that it would be impossible to divide the number of tourists coming to Bhutan equally to all the twenty dzongkhags. “Aside from that, we will definitely be focusing on redistribution of the benefits earned from the tourism sectors with everyone in terms of socio-economic development. After assuming the office, I took over all the flagship packages and we approved only two flagship packages which are One Gewog One Product (OGOP) and water flagship programs given their importance.
“Apart for the two, rest of the flagship programs needed some refinement and tourism flagship is one. The tourism flagship program is not yet approved, so the new leadership of the TCB has to formulate all the plans and policies activities to do away seasonality in tourism and redefine our existing tourism policy of high value and low impact,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen said that there is also a need to explore other forms of tourism other than cultural tourists among a lot of other areas. “Those are the guideline we asked TCB to work on and after the compilation, if we feel that there are substantive programs and it qualifies, we will then approve it under the flagship program. Once under the flagship package, we will provide full support for it cannot fail.”
One of the main aims of the government and the TCB is to do away with the seasonal pattern of the arrival of tourists and focus more on year-round tourist visits in the country by coming up with multi-faceted programs that can engage the tourists based on their preference. The government will focus on capacity building and provide financial aid wherever deemed necessary to improve the system.
Lyonchhen added that the Council lacked clear vision in absence of a tourism policy even to this day. Should there be a need someday, we also see a huge potential to frame a tourism act for the greater good, although that might come with its own set of restrictions.
In order to attract more tourists in the rural parts of the country, it has also been suggested that every gewog should come with up with a unique selling point. “If we are talking about regional balance, we should have some attractions to encourage tourists in every gewog.”
The tourism sector is the second highest contributor to the national revenue after the hydro sector, but if we promote vibrant tourism in the country and create job opportunities, the sector can easily advance to the top spot, said Lyonchhen.
“If we really delve deeper, the best ambassadors for encouraging tourism in the country are the Bhutanese media. And once tourism policy is on the table, media has a greater role to play,” added Lyonchhen.