Bhutan: Geotourism as National Policy

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Bhutan: Geotourism as National Policy

Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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Tourism in Bhutan is driven by the concept of Gross National Happiness by placing the interests of the common people at the center of development. It is not about exploitation but of contribution to the society and the people. It is our aim that tourists will appreciate the real Bhutan through its living culture and pristine environment and the people of Bhutan will in turn benefit from their interaction with the visitors.

Your idea
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Year innovation began


Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality and distinctiveness of the destination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

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Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Lack of collaboration

Main insight addressed

Incorporate sustainable practices

What is the goal of your innovation?

To ensure that tourism in Bhutan is high value and low impact

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

Tourism in Bhutan is seen not only as a revenue and employment generator but also as a means of strengthening the country’s cultural and natural heritage. Therefore, from the time that Bhutan was opened for tourism in the mid seventies we have followed a cautious path of tourism development. Various strategies have been adopted by the government in ensuring that the country’s unique culture and pristine environment is not eroded because of tourism. Tourists have to pay a minimum of USD 200 a day to be in Bhutan. This is an all inclusive package that takes care of internal transport, food, lodging and guide services. Tours have to be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator who will process for visas on behalf of the tourist. Tours are always guided by a trained Bhutanese guide. These strategies in themselves work as deterrents to tourists looking for cheap holidays and who take away more from a destination than give back. The government is consciously working on conservation of our natural environment and culture and traditions. Therefore, tourism is also being developed respecting these policies but deriving the benefits from the implementation of such policies

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

Bhutan has always followed a unique policy of development in that we believe that the spiritual growth of a person is as important as the material growth. The Gross National Happiness concept that has been ingrained in all our policies also plays a major part in the development of tourism in the country. Although it is understood that tourism brings in the much needed revenue the government has ensured that this does not happen at the cost of our environment and culture and traditions. Not all of our products are open for tourists. For example, the Bhutanese believe that the mountains are sacred and that they are the abode of local deities and therefore, should remain sacred. Although a few mountains were open for climbing earlier it has been banned since then in respect to the wishes and sentiments of the local residents. Not all temples and monasteries are open for tourists. The constitution requires 60% of the entire area of the country to be under forest cover for all times. Use of Bhutanese tour operators who arrange everything from visa to food, transport and lodge is mandatory. All visits have to be accompanied by Bhutanese guides.
Bhutan is not a typical holiday destination. Visitors who come to Bhutan do so for its unique culture and pristine environment. Therefore, these are the people who are highly educated and well traveled and values the way Bhutan has tried to preserve what it has. The Bhutanese themselves cherish their culture and environment more because of the appreciation from outside and the economic benefits brought in. In this way tourism is being harnessed not only for the revenue that it brings in but for enhancement of the country’s culture and environmen

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

It may be beneficial to have more awareness programs on what Bhutan is doing - perhaps in the form of participation in international forums and exchange programs with other tourism organizations. Bhutan is a member of the UNWTO and the regional organizations like BIMSTEC, SAARC, SASEC, etc. where experience is shared amongst member countries. However, more forums and platforms at the international level would be beneficial. To get further involved with organizations such as WTTC and have greater involvement in other multilateral organizations that promote cultural preservation, geotourism and heritage tourism would help to showcase Bhutan's sustainable tourism efforts.
Bhutan’s tourism policies could also be shared with the world through collaboration with good tv channels, popular newspapers and publication

In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

To be a successful example of sustainable tourism at its best.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

The path of tourism development that Bhutan has taken has been appreciated the world over and written about. The fact that Bhutan receives highly educated and well traveled visitors who are very sensitive to the local culture and environment is in itself a positive impact. The Bhutanese value their culture and tradition more knowing that people from outside pay so much to have the opportunity of just visiting the country to see all that Bhutan has to offer that is so different from the rest of the world.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

One of the main sources of information for prospective visitors to Bhutan is their friends and relatives who have been to Bhutan. Therefore, visitors are mostly well informed and make the visit because they really want to experience Bhutan. The image of Bhutan being an expensive destination also adds to its exclusivity and appeals to a certain group of people. Visitors feel privileged to be amongst the few to visit and experience Bhutan.
From the daily tariff of USD 200 the government is paid USD 65 as royalty. This revenue is mostly used for improving education and health programs as well as for funding other social sector activities. This knowledge appeals to the tourist who feels that he/she has contributed to the social and economic development of the country.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Although plans and programs may be formulated at the central level, the communities are always consulted and taken on board. The example of the mountaineering ban is a clear indication that the wishes of the people are respected. Like wise, Bhutan has piloted its first community based tourism product where the local community is actively involved from food preparation to guiding to providing ponies and porters.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

Like indicated earlier Bhutan has been lucky in that we receive visitors who are very sensitive and are concerned about the country. Visitors are always accompanied by a local guide to ensure that they understand the country and its people better. Besides having strict laws on conservation the visitors’ appreciation of the policies of the government help the locals appreciate and conserve our natural and cultural heritage

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

This a government initiative and therefore, <i>IS</i> sustainable.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The organization responsible for tourism development in Bhutan is the Tourism Council of Bhutan which is funded by the government.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

Bhutan can share its policies with those interested through exchange programs, at meetings and conferences and through the media.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

In most cases tourists are appreciative of the policy measures that have been put in place. However, there is a segment of people who do resent these policies and therefore, Bhutan is termed as being elitist.

As a government agency the same financial rules and ceilings have to be followed by the tourism organization. This restricts the number of promotional activities that need to be carried out.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

Bhutan opened its doors to tourism only in 1974. Having seen the negative effects that mass tourism could bring to the environment and culture of a country Bhutan was very cautious from the beginning to go for a controlled policy in tourism. Being a very small country with a small population the effects of mass tourism would have been irreversible. Therefore, initially the government acted as both a tour operator as well as regulator. It was only later in 1991 that tour operation was privatized with the government being involved in plans, policies, facilitation and regulation. Since then the number of tourists coming to Bhutan has been increasing gradually in tandem with developments in other areas, especially in the airline and the hotel industry.

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Bhutan is a very small Kingdom situated in the Himalayas with two very large countries (India to the south and China to the north) as its neighbours. The Bhutanese refer to their country as Drukyul or the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”. Bhutan is perhaps the only country in the world where an absolute monarch voluntarily abdicates the throne in favour of his son and also initiates the introduction of democracy. As a result Bhutan elected its first democratic government in March 2008. Bhutan is also the only country in the world where Gross National Happiness is considered more important than Gross National Product.

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Tourism in Bhutan is driven by the concept of Gross National Happiness by placing the interests of the common people at the center of development. It is not about exploitation but of contribution to the society and the people. It is our aim that tourists will appreciate the real Bhutan through its living culture and pristine environment and the people of Bhutan will in turn benefit from their interaction with the visitors.