Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bhutanese Tourism Industry Under Attack: III

The concerted effort to “liberalize” the tourism trade in Bhutan seems to be solely focused on de-pegging the Royalty from the Minimum Daily Tariff - and completely doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff itself. The proponents point out that while the government will be in the happy situation of continuing to keep its royalty of US$65.00 per day for every tourist entering Bhutan, the tour operators will be in the happy situation of being able to determine, on their own, what Minimum Daily Tariff they can collect from the tourists, based on market realities. This is all hunky-dory - except that it has one fundamental problem: it is in direct conflict with the principles of “High-value, Low-volume" tourism that has been at the core of our tourism development policy.

Those people who are calling for the paradigm shift in our tourism policy has to answer some very basic questions:

= Has the guiding principal behind our tourism policy outlived its usefulness or relevance?

= Are we now going to succumb to the allure of plenty over quality?

= Does Bhutan have the carrying capacity to admit and manage increased numbers?

=Are the Bhutanese people prepared to be tolerant and indifferent to the cultural invasion and
  environmental wreckage that will be caused by the riffraff who will invade the country if this “liberalized”
   policy is adopted?

What exactly is the concept behind low volume, high value tourism? 

When His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo opened up the country to tourism in 1974, he was in no doubt of the benefits that tourist dollar would bring to the country. However, he also had the foresight to understand that uncontrolled and unregulated tourism could cause serious cultural shock, religious intolerance, including environmental destruction. Therefore, he decreed that the principal of “High-value, Low-volume” would guide Bhutan’s tourism policy. This visionary policy has worked admirably for the past four decades.

The logic behind the principal is simple: Admit only manageable numbers by excluding the riffraff and keep the tariff reasonably high so that only the educated, the learned, the aged and the wise can afford to visit Bhutan. That is why the Minimum Daily Tariff came to be introduced – to control numbers and yet boost earnings at the same time. The Minimum Daily Tariff has seen substantial increase over the years – so has number of arrivals.

Keeping the Minimum Daily Tariff high is akin to common exams in our schools - it is a weeding out process where the undesirable and the unsuitable are automatically excluded from the list of visitors. This helps because Bhutan does not have the carrying capacity anyway.

The net result of this policy has been that visitors to Bhutan have always been educated, wise and tolerant of the peculiarities of our culture, religion and social habits. They are wise enough to understand and accept that they are in a different culture and do not ridicule and mock at ours, thereby not provoking outrage and retaliation from the local populace. This is the reason why there is no case of conflict between tourists and the local population, unlike in other countries. This will not be the case if we accept tourists that are outside the class and maturity that currently visit Bhutan.

The tourist dollar is important – but in its pursuit, we cannot forego our values, our pristine environment, our social harmony and cultural purity. Don’t forget that they are our selling point – the tourists come because of what we are and what our country represents. We lose that and the tourists disappear.

Already we are in serious danger of losing focus. Look at the dangerous trend in our thinking:

In the beginning : “High-Value, Low-Volume”   = Good Value + Less Quantity
Now                   : “High-Value, Low-Impact”     = Good Value + Good Quantity
Proposed            : “Liberalized”                           = Neither Value nor Quality

Please do not open the floodgates - once we do there is no retrieval.

.................. to be continued

1 comment:

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