A few tourists visiting Bhutan are known to have said that they’re totally “dzonged out” because they are mostly taken to visit dzongs and fortresses. This, according to some observers, calls for diversification of services and products.
In sync with the government’s policy of bringing in 100,000 tourists by the end of the current plan, efforts are underway by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to explore as many products as possible to attract tourists.
This includes opening up of protected areas in Bhutan often avoided for stringent rules protecting them. Officials believe that the protected areas in the country can provide diversity of products for the tourism sector.
Tourism products in Bhutan are predominantly oriented towards offering packages focused on showcasing the country’s unique cultural heritage.
Ecotourism is another that involves travelling or trekking while conserving the environment and improving the socio-economic conditions of local people.
“Tourism really sells nature and culture, those are tourism products,” the Chief Executive Officer of Beyond Green Travel, Coastas Christ said adding that when Bhutan embraces the principles of ecotourism and sustainability, it is ensuring that its tourism products, rich cultural heritage and still unspoiled natural environment will be able to generate economic opportunity for future Bhutanese.
According to him, it’s important for Bhutan to diversify its tourism products apart from dzongs and stupas.
Many innovative activities are being implemented in protected areas which contribute towards realization of better tourism.
The ecotourism trail in Nabji-Korphu within the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park provides an opportunity to tourists to experience life in rural Bhutan through home stays in the Nabji and Korphu communities.
“There are many different ways that Bhutan can appeal to different tourism markets; it does not only have to be the dzongs and I see no problems in Bhutan’s ability to showcase different aspects of the tourism experience to keep visitors coming back and new ones coming in,” said Rutchanee, a tourist.
Wangchuck Centennial Park in Bumthang holds annual nomads’ festival in Nagsephel which provides a platform for the highlanders from Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Gasa, Wangudephodrang, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse and Trashigang to showcase their unique living cultures besides trading their products with tourists and other visitors.
This will provide high quality and innovative nature and community-based tourist packages to diversify the services offered by Bhutan tourism industry and also contribute to the preservation and maintenance of sites of special significance.
Takin festival in Gasa by Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park is also targeted towards attracting tourists. The festival held annually in honor of the national animal of Bhutan is expected to attract tourists.
“Most tourists are fascinated by our unique cultural heritage and embracing ecotourism would give them more opportunity to explore us in depth,” a guide, Yeshi Wangchuk said.
Chief Forestry Officer of Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NERD) Dr (Phd) Karma Tshering said, “The two major pillars of tourism are culture and nature. Because we have people living in the protected areas, we want to see them profiting from conservation and one of the most viable tools is eco-tourism.”
Although, it is yet to start off, the Langur festival in the southern part of the country is to be led by the Royal Manas National Park.
However, it is equally important to consider that opening all tourism avenues will lead to Bhutan being oversold and soon running out of specialty, according to an ecotourism expert.