The Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dorji Dhradhul, talks with Business Bhutan reporter Dechen Dolkar on taking tourism to the top.
Q. Personally how different do you find working in an organization like Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) from a Dzongkhag administrator before?
A. Interestingly, so far I have not felt any difference and I like the work as much as I did with my earlier job as Dzongda. I could smoothly fit into the new job, even though I also expected it to be quite different. Well I believe it got to do with fact that I am a civil servant and as a civil servant, one’s fundamental mission remains same, which is to serve the “Tsa Wa Sum – The King, the People and the Country” unconditionally.
Q. TCB’s plan is to take tourism to the top. How do you plan to achieve this goal?
A. In keeping with the policy of high value, low impact tourism, TCB has adopted a new slogan, which is Taking Tourism to the Top. Top is interpreted as being- top in revenue contribution at the national level, top in exclusivity at the global level and top in the geographical aspect. Central to this slogan is promoting responsible and sustainable tourism without harming our environment, tradition and culture. It is also about giving best possible experience to visitors, while ensuring greater benefits to wider stakeholders and the national economy. As a way forward to realize the goal of Taking Tourism to the Top, TCB is currently in the process of finalizing the tourism flagship program.Among others, the focus of the flagship program is on developing new destinations, diversifying products and attractions, effective marketing and enhancing enabling environment to facilitate the growth of the tourism sector. Through the flagship program, we also want to improve connectivity and quality, upgrade tourism infrastructure, and improve waste management. With the implementation of these initiatives through effective partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders, TCB is confident of Taking Tourism to the Top.
Q. Under cutting in the tourism industry seems to be a major issue, what are TCB’s plans and strategy to control this business mal-practice in the industry which leads to high revenue loss?
A. Undercutting is unethical business practice. It basically means selling tour package below the minimum tariff set by the government. This leads to compromising the standards of all related services from meals, accommodation, transport, guides and etc. Poor service standards directly and adversely impact our precious policy of high value, exclusivity tourism policy. Under cutting is illegal and defaulters if caught with evidence can be penalized. We are working on how to address or combat this widespread ill practice. It is complex and many players are involved but the truth is we all have to correct it or at least minimize it. While you have mentioned about the revenue loss due to undercutting, but I believe that the bigger concern is the possible damage to the precious Brand Bhutan, which we have received as a gift from the Golden Throne. We all should remember that the Brand Bhutan – what we are today, how we are known to the outside world did not come just like that. On the contrary it is a result of decades of tireless efforts and sacrifices our visionary Kings have consciously made. Among many others, the visionary tourism policy of “High value, low volume” propounded by our beloved Fourth King in the early seventies also contributed to the building of Brand Bhutan. We could have easily succumbed to the more attractive, easier and more popular development approach like most countries, but our farsighted Kings had to take the hard decision to walk the more difficult and less travelled road, the results of which we can see for ourselves today in the form of precious Brand Bhutan. Bhutan today is a GNH country, pristine environment and only carbon negative country, vibrant unique age-old tradition and culture.
So, it is our sacred duty to keep on enriching the Brand Bhutan in the interest of our future generation.
Q. Bhutan’s high value low impact tourism policy is increasingly under threat from the large number of regional tourists (non dollar paying tourists) visiting Bhutan year after year. This could eventually inflict critical damage to Bhutan’s image as an exclusive high end destination. In this context, what is TCB doing to firstly regulate the number of regional tourists and secondly to preserve Bhutan as an exclusive destination?
A. We want to clarify here that, we are not against tourism, on the contrary we need regional tourism as they are our immediate markets. What we are saying is we need to regulate and manage our regional tourism in the interest of all stakeholders, most importantly the regional themselves. Presently due to the unmanaged and unregulated regional tourism, the biggest losers are the tourist themselves as they are not able to get the best experience. Secondly, because of this shortcoming, our time tested tourism policy of high value and exclusivity is also under constraint. So we are working on how best we can address this challenge so that all stakeholders are gets the maximum benefits.
Q. What is TCB doing to promote tourism in east and south?A. Through the flagship program, we want to promote balanced tourism development and equitable distribution of tourism benefits. Out of four focus dzongkhags identified, two districts are Lhuentse in east and Dagana in south. These dzongkhags will be developed as new destinations to attract tourists to east and south. Other dzongkhags in east and south will also get support for at least one project to develop unique products and attractions depending on the potential and feasibility. So, these are some of the initiatives to promote tourism in east and south and take tourism to the top.