Bhutan Tourism – The Ugly Side of Business

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Bhutan tourism’s unique policy of “High Value, Low Impact” is indeed a priceless gift from our leaders and we must treasure it at any costs. For more than three decades after the inception of Bhutan’s tourism industry, this policy has contributed significantly in building an image for Bhutan as a most unique and exotic destination in the world.

When Buddha started to teach, he said, “This is the path to liberation and the liberation depends on you.” Even after more than 2500 years, this path has proven to be more relevant to this age and time. Likewise I’ve a strong feeling that our tourism policy can never go wrong for our country, whose direction, content and pace of development are guided by the noble philosophy of Gross NationalHappiness. Thus, rampant “undercutting” (and fronting) can’t assure the sustainability of Bhutan’s tourism industry.

As a concerned citizen, I see undercutting (and fronting) as a great risk for Bhutan’s image as travel destination. All the stakeholders in the industry have made their share of sacrifices to create a positive image for the country as a destination, and we must at any cost safeguard this image before it is too late. Undercutting (and fronting) is certainly not a way to sustainable responsible tourism in the country. Once this image is gone, Bhutan will pay a heavy price for generations. Better safe than sorry for the sake of our future generations. The responsibility lies with Tourism Council of Bhutan, as the regulatory body, to monitor tourism operations.

As a regulatory and monitoring body, the Council has been weak in this regard. In recent years, there have been many cases where tour operators have forged bank slips, Visa cards and even tampered Drukair tickets, but no serious action has been taken against those defaulters. Action taken against such defaulters must be given in the print media and circulated among stakeholders to inform of such bad practices. This will discourage others.

If we are concerned about cultural dilution, environmental degradation, social problems, then we must respect and uphold our unique policy. A few weeks back, on a BBS TV interview, a tourism Council official mentioned about self-monitoring, but who do you expect to monitor, when it comes to making a quick buck? With undercutting (and fronting), Bhutan’s tour operators, hoteliers and other suppliers may gain or lose, depending on how they play their cards, but Bhutan will certainly be the loser.

If Bhutan loses now, our future generations lose too. Undercutting (and fronting) is a serious problem, like in other industries, and there is no room for complacency for all concerned authorities, but it’s now time to act. Bhutan’s tourism industry must serve the people for generations to come; with undercutting (and fronting), Bhutan will land up serving the outside like other countries not far from us. Let us save Bhutan, before it’s too late.

Opinion in KUENSEL by Soenam Dorjee.

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