Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has initiated many new programs to promote tourism in the east which till now has not attracted as many tourists as the west.
The equitable spread of tourism benefits has been a long standing issue for the tourism industry in the country with low numbers of tourists visiting the eastern dzongkhags of Lhuntse, Mongar, Samdrup Jongkhar, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, and Trashiyangtse.
Proprietor of Namgay Adventure Travels established in 2000, Kinley Zam said that most tourists prefer to visit western Bhutan due to advanced facilities such as high-end hotels, better options of accommodation and good road condition.
A tourist guide working for New World Explorer Adventure, Sonam Penjor said that the east is not frequently visited by tourists due to the distance from the capital and difficulty in communication with the rural folks owing to language barriers.
Another tourist guide of Etho Metho Tours, Tshering Dorji said that there are good places in eastern Bhutan that can attract foreign visitors but they lack amenities.
According to owner of Daj Expeditions established in 2011, Sonam Yoezer, the east can be a potential tourist hub if the locals promote their cultural heritage and festivals.
Recently, TCB officials visited nine dzongkhags (six eastern dzongkhags, Zhemgang, Sarpang, and Tsirang) least visited by tourists to develop common goals between the council and the dzongkhags to promote tourism equitably throughout the country.
To address problems of inequitable tourism benefits, TCB is looking into developing amenities such as farmhouses now identified as village home stays. The owners were trained in basic hospitality and these village home stays are registered with the TCB in places least visited by tourists. Local festivals like Chha in Lhuntse are also being revived in collaboration with the dzongkhag authorities.
The council continues to organize tours for local tour operators to the eastern region to familiarize and impact product knowledge.
New treks routes have been identified and some are already developed like Farout East Bhutan, Dangling Tsho Trek and Aja Ney Trek in additional to the already existing ones.
With the government planning to waive off sustainable development fee of US$65 in the six eastern dzongkhags, TCB hopes that there will be more visitors in the east which in turn will boost local economy.
Bhutan recorded the highest tourist arrivals in 2016 with maximum visitors from India (64.7%) and least from the Netherlands and Spain with 0.4%.
As of 2017, there are 1,701 tour operators in the country.
Tshering Yangden from Thimphu