In a considerable bid to sell Bhutan, around 120 tour agents from around the world have visited Bhutan on familiarization (FAM) trips since July 1, 2023. One of the big groups comprised about 45 tour agents from India. Members of the group said that Bhutan has a very high potential in tourism and that their personal experience of the country would enable them to sell Bhutan in a better way. Others pointed out that Bhutan was a far better destination than Thailand and Bali, while some said they could even bring in Indian tourists who reside in Gulf countries. One lauded Bhutan’s sustainable development fee (SDF).
Nonetheless, there were limitations pointed out, such as the high airfares, routes, transport (connectivity), and food. Travel agents also pointed out that they would like to see more handmade, exclusive Bhutanese products being sold, and more activities offering experience be made such as zip lining or para-gliding.
Interacting with the Department of Tourism (DoT) and the Bhutanese media on July 24, 2023, Indian agents said Bhutan has huge potential and that they enjoyed their accommodation, exploring Thimphu’s dining and entertainment scenes, and going shopping during the trip.
The owner of Horizon Holidays, Kashmira Thaker from Ahmedabad pointed out that tourists’ service buses are small with uncomfortable seats. She said that there should be more comfortable luxury vehicles being used for tourists.
She also said that there are only charted or scheduled flights and that more routine flights should be explored.
Ranjeetha Raj of Yaana travel agent based in Bangalore said Airline prices are expensive for Indians. She said that her company has been selling Bhutan for a long time but did not really know the culture and people. With this FAM trip, she said, “Bhutan can be sold in a better way.”
However, she said, “There should be direct connectivity from places like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad.”
Gayathri of Phoenix Holiday, Chennai, said that Bhutan is an authentic remote place and Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) is the best measure to reduce the crowd.
However, she said that the airfare is high, besides looking for shortening routes as few days of holidays are wasted in traveling. She also pointed out that there are only group travels and recommended corporate travel as well. “There should be more Indian foods, especially South Indian foods in Bhutan,” she said.
Similarly, the president of the Travel Agents Association of Nasik, Datta Bhalerao said there should be more Indian restaurants. “Tourists will develop a sense of Buddhism by visiting Bhutan,” he added.
Anita Mehta, director of My Trip Sarthe, based in Mumbai, and who stays in Oman said that she did not have much knowledge of Bhutan. Underpinning Bhutan’s rich culture and nature as assets, she said that she hopes to bring more visitors to Bhutan.
Dipak Ughadpaga of Swastik Tour and Travels, from Surat, said that he has been sending tourists to Bhutan for 15 years but never visited the country. “Bhutan is a better destination than Thailand or Bali. FAM trip improved my confidence to sell Bhutan,” he said. But he pointed out that there is no train or flight from Surat to New Jalpaiguri (NJP), West Bengal.
The founder of UTEN travel networking, Satyaprakash Gupta said Indian travelers do not have much knowledge about Bhutan and that this trip would create an impact on Bhutan as a focus destination. He said that he can target Indians living in Gulf countries to spend their vacation in Bhutan besides “attracting families to visit the fresh Himalayan country.”
However, the travel agents pointed out that there should be theme parks in the country and Bhutan should create its presence for Indians through different programs. Concerns were also raised on security in nightclubs and higher prices for goods.
The FAM trip was organized by Jash Holidays and Memories, and the group was in the country for seven nights, visiting Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha.
Meanwhile, the owner of Damonde, Germany, Natasa Manic was part of a small group FAM trip in early March of this year, which included five luxury agency owners and Sales Directors from Germany and Switzerland.
In correspondence with Business Bhutan over social media, she said that some of them had sold Bhutan before while others had not. The team traveled across four valleys over eight days and had a chance to experience “this amazing destination firsthand”. “It was a dream! But more importantly, it gave us all the kind of detailed knowledge and experience that high-end clients like ours expect from their travel professionals,” Natasa said.
“We are now more confident in proposing Bhutan, and we are able to tailor specific itineraries to suit our client’s needs and interests in a way that we could never have done if we had not visited ourselves. I feel that we all came away as confident ambassadors of travel to the Kingdom and hope to send many more guests here over the coming years,” she said.
Keara He, the owner of Fantasy Travel China (works with DMC- Excursion to the Himalayas in Bhutan) who was visiting Bhutan for the fourth time this year said she still found so many new and exciting things to promote Bhutan to Chinese guests.
She mentioned that the FAM Tour helped her sell more of Bhutan’s Tours because the agents cannot sell a destination if they cannot answer 100% of the questions which was raised by potential guests. “Only if I am here, seeing the real country, experiencing the new hotels, enjoying the food, talking to locals, then I can have the confidence to handle any guests’ inquiries,” she said.
Keara said that the agents will never understand why a hotel sells at that high price until they witness the fantastic view from the hotel lobby. “If I didn’t visit renewed Zhiwaling Heritage in May, I will never consider selling it since its price almost doubled after the pandemic,” she said. Keara already sent two groups of tourists to Zhiwaling after the tour.
Agents will never know how to improve their service standard with local DMC for the luxury group guests until they arrive in Bhutan, see the car conditions/if the road to the hotel is tough/if any nice restaurant can be chosen/if a teapot set can be served during the hiking, the owner of Fantasy Travel China told Business Bhutan.
She shared that without trips, the agents cannot sell. “When they bring back the good memories, they sell Bhutan with a motivated emotion behind.”
According to Dorji Dhradul, Director General (DG), Department of Tourism (DoT), the objective of organizing the FAM trip was for personal experience, and product knowledge, build trust with clients, address client questions and concerns, customize itineraries, anticipate potential issues, provide insider information, staying updated, marketing and promotion, and enhance sales skills.
The DG said that personal experience helps travel agents provide accurate and reliable information to clients. It makes them confident to speak about a place when the owner of tour companies has visited the places themselves. They can better understand the various products and services available, such as hotels, tours, and activities. The product knowledge will enable them to match their clients with the most suitable options based on their preferences and budget.
Travel agents can speak passionately about a destination based on their own experiences, which will build trust with their clients. Clients are more likely to trust and book with an agent who can provide genuine insights and recommendations.
Clients often have specific questions and concerns about a destination. Having visited the place, travel agents can address these inquiries more effectively and provide practical tips to enhance the client’s travel experience.
Visiting a destination allows travel agents to design personalized itineraries based on their own experiences and knowledge. This level of customization can lead to more fulfilling and enjoyable trips for their clients.
While no trip is entirely trouble-free, having visited a destination enables travel agents to anticipate potential issues or challenges their clients might face. This preparation allows them to offer solutions or alternatives proactively.
During their visits, travel agents can establish connections with local suppliers, tour operators, and hoteliers. These relationships can provide them with access to special deals, discounts, or exclusive experiences that can benefit their clients by proving insider information.
Travel destinations can change over time due to various factors, such as weather patterns, political situations, or infrastructure developments. By visiting regularly, travel agents can stay up-to-date with any changes that might affect their clients’ travel plans.
Through FAM trips, travel agents can create their own content, including photos, videos, and blogs. This original content can be used for marketing and promotion, showcasing their expertise and the beauty of the destination to potential clients.
The other objective is to enable travel agents who have experienced a destination to share anecdotes and personal stories with clients. This storytelling ability can be a powerful sales tool, as it brings the destination to life and helps clients envision themselves there.
DoT is committed to raising its concerns with the relevant stakeholders and hopes to promote tourism through FAM trips.
Sangay Rabten from Thimphu