Friday, July 3, 2015

Tourism Industry's Death Knell

The FINANCIAL -- IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, will invest $3.5 million in Bhutan’s Zhiwa Ling Hotel to support its plans to refurbish and increase room capacity and boost tourism in the country. This is the first ever external borrowing by a private Bhutanese company.

A very encouraging news indeed! Not so much because the IFC’s investment in the Zhiwa Ling Hotel demonstrates that it sees potential in the property, but because, even more important, it is a re-validation of what I have always said - that tourism is Bhutan’s most important industry that gives employment and economic benefit - across the broad spectrum of Bhutanese society.

Obviously, the World Bank sees it. Why then, don't we see it? Why do we fail to recognize how vitally important the tourism industry is to Bhutan? Why, particularly in the face of the reality that is now staring at our faces - that hydro-power - the wolf in sheep's clothing - is slowly but surely leading us down the path of doom and destruction?

It is a strange thing! Despite its potential, scant attention is paid to tourism and its development in the right direction. In fact it is as if there is some sinister conspiracy afoot to destroy it completely. Even our National Council seems to be onto the game of destroying the industry by calling for its liberalization.

In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, our tourist arrivals are already on the down-slide. The final nail on the coffin is the recently initiated Wangdue-Trongsa road-widening work - a sure death knell for Bhutan’s tourism industry.

The road widening work between Simtokha and Mesina - a distance of 59 KMs - has been going on for over one and a half decades! It is still a work in progress. Regardless, the government proudly announces that the work between Wangdue and Trashigang - a distance of 492 Kms - will be completed in just three years.

The mountainsides will be hacked and dug up; Kms. upon Kms. of mounds of mud and soil and boulders will be piled up by the road side that will hinder traffic flow for hours on end. Road surfaces will be strewn with gaping potholes that will cause havoc to vehicles. Lush green vegetation and millions of trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow and mature, will be rendered asunder. The environment that we have sworn to protect will be devastated. Strings of heavy earth moving equipment will lie idle by the roadside, like zombie guardians keeping watch over empty burial grounds.

The Bhutanese people will wait with hope and mounting desperation - like the proverbial Maheng waiting for its pound of salt from Tibet - but the salt will never arrive.

In the next few years, it will become apparent to the Bhutanese people that this was yet another mistake we had the opportunity to avoid. By then it will be too late - irreparable damage would have been caused and we would have completely destroyed our tourism industry.

For long years, hundreds upon hundreds of Kms. of our national highway will remain dug up, unfinished and unpaved. Dozens of road building contractors will remain unpaid for their troubles and banks will institute legal proceedings on them for failing to service their loans.

All that I can say then would be that - I told you so!

Today morning’s Kuensel headline:

Road widening caused slides 
Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa

The recent landslides and flood that rocked Trongsa is due to road widening project. This is the view the residents and the dzongkhang’s damage assessment team holds.
“The business community says that the road widening works actually caused the floods and multiple landslides,” said a hotelier from Trongsa.

Trust me you haven't seen anything yet!

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