The government post-pandemic came with some bold initiatives to promote high-value tourism in the country with a prologue of major reforms like the increase in SDF and the upgradation of tourist facilities in the country.
While much is anticipated of the outcome of the transition, it is already apparent that tourism companies and individuals alike are bracing themselves to cope up with the change, and are trying to diversify their products and services so as to reap the best of this renewed tourism policy.
However, there still seem to be some missing links and some gaping holes that we need to plug and unplug, and as the earliest so that the benefits and trickledown effects of tourism reach to all segments of the Bhutanese populace.
Apart from bridging regional imbalances in tourism footfalls, which might take a few more years given the varying degree of infrastructure development and attraction lists, a small tweak in existing policies like the classification of integrated tourist entry and exit points could go a long way in ensuring that some neglected parts, albeit with huge tourism potential, also relish the benefits of this growing tourism pie.
Case in point; Panbang a small frontier town in the south whose boundaries encompass the famed Royal Manas Wildlife Sanctuary with lush sub-tropical forests and exotic flora and fauna is touted as a potential tourism hub in the south. If promoted, the region has a multitude of attractions to offer including wildlife safari, jungle lodges and camping, and adventure sports like rafting and angling among others.
Nonetheless, despite all its allure and potential to attract tourists not many visitors, especially regional tourists from India and Bangladesh, seem to visit the region as tourists have to make a long and unnecessary detour of about 164km.
Visitors are mandated to enter through the integrated check post at Gelephu even as the Indian border lies just about 10km from Panbang. Hence, thousands of visitors are forced to turn back after visiting the Indian side of the Manas, and even if they wished to enter and take delight in experiencing Bhutan’s Manas which has a lot more and diverse attractions to offer.
If we are to ensure balanced regional development and share the ever-growing tourism pie, the government, and relevant agencies should look at bridging such gaps and issues. An integrated tourism entry point at Panbang would bring a sea change in the region which is today home to one of the most backward communities in the country.
The people of Panbang at least deserve this small change.