Bhutan received 64,028 tourists in 2011, recording a 56.65 percent growth, the highest in the Bhutanese tourism history, according to Tourism Council of Bhutan’s annual report for 2011.
“The large influx of tourists in October could be highly attributed to one of Bhutan’s biggest events as the country celebrated the Royal Wedding of the King and Queen. Many friends of Bhutan came from all over the world to be part of the grand celebration,” the report states.
Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions indisputably stand as the main attraction among tourists. 77.09 percent of tourists who visited Bhutan in 2011, saw Bhutan as a cultural destination.
The report says most tourists visited Bhutan to see the country’s age-old living culture, colorful festivals and ways of life. Tourists who visited Bhutan, were asked to cite the reason why they visited Bhutan in order to find out perceptions of the visitors on Bhutan as a tourist destination.
The highest number (77.09 percent) rated culture as the main reason for their visit, followed by 18.74 percent who said they came for nature-based activities.
This confirms that culture and nature are Bhutan’s selling point in tourism. Bhutan’s culture tourism offers a blend of religion and rich traditions besides a wide variety of activities such as visiting historic places, museums, and temples.
“As a policy to showcase an authentic experience for the visitors, the tourism products that are on offer are predominantly existing activities (festivals) and cultural sites that hold great importance to everyday lives of the people,” the report says.
Festivals remain among the top attractions among tourists. Festivals in Bhutan comprise mostly Tshechus held in almost every Dzong, temple and monastery across the country.
In 2009, Thimphu Tshechu and Paro Tshechu saw 2,561 and 2,134 of tourists respectively. Last year, the number of tourists who witnessed Thimphu and Paro Tshechus increased to 4,212 and 3,718 respectively.
Tangbi Mani, a community festival in Bumthang, received 1,796 tourists last year, which exceeded the arrivals for Jambay Lhakhang Drub, which received 1,750 tourists.
Wangdue Tshechu attracted 1,608 tourists while Ura Yakchoe and Punakha Dromchoe received 554 and 740 tourists respectively.
Nature-based activities, which included trekking, bird watching, flora and fauna and adventure sports, accounted for 18.74 percent of tourist arrivals.
Bird watching was another popular activity among tourists. The country’s 667 species of birds attracted 5.3 percent of total tourist arrivals.
Trekking tourists accounted for 9.25 percent of the total number of visitors. Last year, Drukpath Trek surpassed Chomolhari Trek with 977 visitors. The trek marked a significant rise in arrivals. Chomolhari Trek followed closely with 745 trekkers, followed by Laya – Gasa Trek with 274 visitors.
The new community-based trek, Merak – Sakteng Trek, received 138 visitors, which is a significant number.
Adventure sports saw a drastic increase in arrival of tourists for mainly rafting, kayaking, motorcycling, biking and fishing.
Motorcycling and cycling are seen as potential tourist attractions in Bhutan. The route along Bhutan’s 600 km long east-west highway was popular among tourists.
Paro received the highest number of tourists (36,432), while Samtse received the least (3 only).
Last year, Bhutan’s gross earnings from international tourism reached US$ 47.68 million, up from US$ 35.98 million in 2010.
Gross earnings increase in 2011 marked the biggest increase rate in the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, the World Tourism Organization says that cultural tourism accounts for 37 percent of global tourism. It forecasts that it would grow at a rate of 15 percent a year.