News / Asia

Bhutan Seeks More Tourists to Boost Economy

Bhutan's Taktsang Monastery, popularly known as the Tiger's Nest, is built into hillside near Paro , August 21, 2011.
Bhutan's Taktsang Monastery, popularly known as the Tiger's Nest, is built into hillside near Paro , August 21, 2011.
Ron Corben

Rising incomes across Asia in the last decade have helped create millions of new tourists, eager to explore foreign places.

Bhutan, an Asian nation that has seen relatively few international visitors, is hoping to dramatically boost its tourism industry and provide a vital jolt to its economy.

Keeping traditions

Guests are welcomed by a Bhutanese traditional song of greeting as they arrive at the hotel in the capital Thimphu.

The kingdom, with its snow capped ranges and forested valleys, is preparing to draw more travelers interested in its Mahayana Buddhist faith and traditional artwork, distinctive architecture, forested treks and crisp clean air.

With a population of just 700,000, Bhutan is braced between Asia’s giants of India and China. Officials here have long sought to protect local culture from the influence of foreign visitors.

Tshering Tobgay, a resort owner in Paro Valley, 55 kilometers from Thimphu, says avoiding the excesses of mass tourism that have damaged or overdeveloped other locations in Asia remains a priority.

“The government is taking a very good initiative to promote tourism in a way that we don’t want a lot of people in one go. So we focus on high value and low volume. It’s a very good concept - that is a small country, we don’t want a lot of tourists to come in and spoil our culture and heritage likewise in other countries,” said Tobgay.

Limiting numbers of tourists

The number of foreign visitors has steadily risen over the years. The kingdom drew 400 tourists when it opened its doors to visitors in 1974. Four decades later, the total has reached 60,000, and the government is expecting 100,000 visitors a year by 2013.

The country charges most foreign visitors an all-encompassing fee of about $250 per day, which covers transportation, guides, room and board. The fee is aimed at limiting the numbers of visitors and ensuring the country receives only ‘high value’ travelers. A third of the total fee is budgeted for Bhutan’s education and health services.

Bhutan’s main source of foreign exchange remains hydropower electricity sales to India. But Kesang Wangdi, director general of Bhutan’s Tourism Council, says tourism is set to play a key role in Bhutan’s development.

“Tourism occupies one of the key priorities and attention of the government because of its potential to contribute towards a more equitable socio-economic development in terms of alleviation of poverty issues and employment generation," he said. "This potential to economically empower people at the grass roots level.”

Managing visitors

But the increasing number of visitors presents challenges for the largely rural and mountainous country. While the outside visitors bring much-needed foreign currency for local businesses, they also place stress on the country’s infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built to support 100,000 people coming in. You’ve got to look at that from airport facilities then hotels," said Julie Beattie, a resort manager in Paro. The thing is to make sure that the infrastructure is not all centered on certain places - that is actually is defused across the Kingdom.”

While proponents hope that infrastructure development will lift the lives of Bhutanese, there are already worries about its down side. Plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable waste in streams and along trekking paths are troubling some visitors, says Bhutan’s economics minister, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchak.

“We feel now - what began at this crossroads - many tourists told us that ‘if we don’t take care of the trash on the trekking routes or the waste in the cities - I don’t want to spend 250 dollars to see this rubbish’,” he said.

Handling growth

He says the industry’s success in Bhutan will largely depend on how the country handles that growth.

Buddhist prayer flags flutter violently at Che Li La Pass, 3,810 meters above Paro valley. Bhutan Tourism Council guide, Phuntsho Gyeltshen, says preserving the culture that exists in Bhutan now is key to its success as a destination.

“Bhutan is still one of those places we probably dream or wish to see at some point in our lives you know," he said. "So I think this could be one of those destinations one should try and visit once in their life time.”

Tourist officials says that so far, the small number of visitors has meant little need for stringent guidelines on managing tourists. But as the number of visitors rises, authorities say they need more serious legislation and regulations to ensure the visitors do not spoil the environment, culture and traditions that have drawn visitors from afar for decades.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs