To sell a Pen

The story of the week has been about a tourism company bringing in 600 pax of Indian tourists at a go; an unprecedented episode in Bhutan’s tourism history and in the words of some, a chapter that cannot be repeated.

The magician behind this is Karma Wangdi, proprietor and chief executive officer (CEO) of Yarden Tours and Treks.  And Karma alone will know how he managed to pull this stunt. Though, he says that he has been selling attractive packages, we can confidently assume and say that while he marketed his products, he ensured that it stood out and appealed to the clients. In other words, he employed a marketing strategy that he would not share with others. He sold pens which others could not. It is business.

We do not need to listen to what Karma has to say about the benefits. The beauty of the hospitality industry is that there is a hierarchy of beneficiaries; from the government to villagers who sell their produce to hotels. In this extraordinary case too, though far from what the government would have earned from dollar paying tourists, a modest sustainable development fee (SDF) entered the government’s coffers. Hotels, guides, shops selling tourist products and others benefited, too.

The lesson that we can learn from this incidence is that we can bring in tourists. Marketing matters and what we used to do before is obsolete. The needs of customers have evolved. For instance, after the Covid 19 pandemic, emphasis on hygiene has soared. Are we making use of this? Further, personalization marketing matters as modern customers want to be treated as individuals. In other words, people should be targeted with messages that appeal to them. And this is where data analysis enters.

We can fill social media with stories of the Last Shangrila, Land of the Mythical Yeti, a country that still does not have traffic lights etc. But does it work? What about an analysis of what best appeals to the Americans or the Europeans and develop packages based on the results?

To narrate an interesting anecdote, last week there was a couple who had come from Hyderabad, India. The husband is an Information Technology (IT) specialist, who is so busy and just does not have time for his wife. The couple had come to Bhutan so that they could be together. Wouldn’t there be more couples of the like? Can’t we develop packages aiming this group?

If you look at the Tourism Monitor publications, you will find that people from the Middle East, home to most of the world’s richest people, hardly come to Bhutan. We haven’t seen any scientific study conducted about it. We don’t think the Sheiks of the desert hate the Himalayas. How can we bring them in? How do we develop a package they cannot refuse?

Everybody continues to point their fingers at the USD 200 SDF. And the government is on the verge of introducing a Sunset Clause. We do not know if this will bring tourism once again to the forefront. It is just another experiment.

It has been proven since times immemorial that strategic marketing is key to a successful business. The hospitality industry is interconnected and includes airlines, tour operators, hotels, guides etc. One can affect the other, positively and negatively. Thus, every stakeholder is important.  

However, the end is to create and ensure that guests have a memorable experience from the time they board an airline till they return. Any package created should be based on this – creation of a memorable experience which will bring them back and make them ambassadors of Bhutan.