Tourism generates around Nu 754mn after the reopening in September 2022
While the domestic tourism industry is going through one of the roughest times, with some stakeholders saying that the department of tourism (DoT) ought to do more, an official from the DoT says that the department is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that guests begin to visit Bhutan paying the revised sustainable development fee (SDF) of USD 200 per day per person. The official also said that although tourist volume is less, the value generated is high.
The above is authenticated by data from the DoT. Though the number of tourists visiting Bhutan after the reopening of the borders on September 23rd September 2022, has dropped as compared to pre-pandemic levels, the tourism industry was still able to generate around Nu 754mn in the duration of just four months. The Visa Fee collected from non-Indian guests was USD 0.4 million (Nu 33mn), The SDF collected from guests other than Indians was USD 7.9 million (Nu 65mn) and the SDF collected from Indian guests more than Nu 65mn, as per the record from the DoT.
While the tour operators and other tourism stakeholders are in dismay currently due to the less number of bookings for the upcoming peak tourist season, the official from DoT said that it’s really time to change the perception that Bhutan is only a destination to visit in certain seasons – but Bhutan is an all-year-round destination.
“The industry is going through a very hard time right now. We understand that the introduction of the SDF has significantly impacted bookings in the short term,” the official added.
The official further said that to help drive business on an urgent basis, raising awareness about Bhutan’s reopening and new tourism strategy has been DoT’s priority as many people still do not know that Bhutan is open.
As part of the marketing strategy, the official added that more than 800 positive articles about Bhutan have been published in some of the world’s best media publications, reaching millions of readers in order to go direct to the consumer.
The DoT has also hosted more than 60 press trips, as well as some prominent travel agent trips.
“We expect to reap the impact of this in 4-12 months as people start to plan their holiday,” the official said.
Meanwhile, there are still some issues that impede or limit the entrance of tourists, despite the department’s best efforts to inform and raise tourists’ awareness of the nation’s tourism policies and processes.
“Accessibility to Bhutan is a challenge. There are limited routes and flights are comparatively expensive compared with other destinations,” the official said, while adding that the banking system is another issue. While most international visitors prefer to use credit cards when traveling, only a few hotels and shops in Bhutan now accept them, and many of the credit card machines are broken. “Travelers find it frustrating,” Business Bhutan was told, adding that this difficulty prevents tourists from spending more money domestically.
Additionally, there are also concerns from the guests, particularly the regional guests, regarding flight costs and the route network.
However, despite all the challenges, the figures to date have surpassed the department’s initial forecasts and expectations, and as per the state of nation report 2022, around 137,000 visitors are expected to arrive in 2025 which is around 44% of visitors in 2019.
The DoT official said that the department is very much confident that by 2025, there will be more than 137,000 visitors.
“Just now we don’t see many tourists, and that is due to numerous reasons, introduction of the SDF and other changes in the tourism strategy have contributed to a drop in arrival numbers in the short term. We also know that, at least for the first year after reopening, guest arrivals were predicted to be low. There are several reasons for this,” the official said, adding that, firstly, it takes time for a destination to rebound after reopening again after Covid. Moreover, the industry only communicated about Bhutan’s reopening and new tourism strategy just two weeks before the actual reopening of the country, which was unfortunately a very late notice.
However, given the industry’s current strategy and promotion efforts, it is anticipated that after these activities have been completed, there would be an increase in visitors.
Meanwhile, a total of 22,541 tourists visited Bhutan as of January 18th, 2023, since the reopening. Out of these, 12,425 were Indian tourists and the remaining 10,116 were international guests.
Tshering Pelden from Thimphu