The dream destroyers are at it yet again!
The clamor for demolishing the visionary tourism policy of high-value, low-volume, introduced by the Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1974, is gaining steam from certain sections of the society and the Bhutanese polity. Sadly it is happening during a time when we celebrated the monarch’s 60th Birth Anniversary that concluded less than two weeks back. I am unable to understand the logic behind those who are baying for the burial of a policy that has been admired and adulated by world leaders and thinkers.
There is something terribly wrong with the people who seek to alter a policy that has stood us in good stead for the past four decades. These people ignore the fact that the unremitting success we have seen in our vital tourism industry hinged on one simple and yet profound guiding principal - our much-admired policy of high-value, low-volume tourism. I have heard visitors to Bhutan praise the wisdom behind the policy. Infact the tourists favor even higher daily tariff in the hope that Bhutan can continue to support and maintain the pristine environment and cultural purity that is the hallmark of Bhutan’s enduring allure as a tourism destination.
Bhutan introduced tourism in 1974 - soon after the coronation of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Some of the large hotels (by Bhutan’s standards) such as Hotel Olathang, Hotel Motithang and Hotel Kharbandi were constructed to accommodate the visiting dignitaries to the coronation ceremony. In my view the introduction of tourism was necessitated to make use of these facilities that would otherwise remain unused.
While introducing tourism, His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo was mindful of the negative impacts of uncontrolled and unregulated tourism. Thus, he was categorical that the guiding principals that should define and guide the development of our tourism industry would be: high-value, low-volume, (this was later rephrased to read: high-value, low-impact). Since then Bhutan has been unwavering and single minded in the pursuit of this policy resulting in an industry that now qualifies as the most important and vibrant.
In 1974 when the country was opened up for tourism, tourist arrivals were a mere 287. It has now grown to over 133,000 arrivals in 2014. From a single tour operator in 1974, there are currently over a thousand licenced tour companies engaged in tourism businesses.
Tourism accounts for the highest amount of untied foreign exchange inflow - estimated at about US$73 million annually, out of which close to US$21.00 million is net Royalty that goes into the national exchequer. It is the country’s biggest employer, providing employment and livelihood to every segment of Bhutanese society - irrespective of religion, gender, social standing, level of skills, educated and uneducated, the aged and the young.
As of now, tourism industry is the only industry in the country that DOES NOT INDULGE IN FRONTING. Unlike in other sectors where even a shanty stationary shop is financed and owned by shadowy outsiders, every aspect of the tourism business is owned and managed by Bhutanese. Unlike in the perilous hydro-power industry where secondhand trucks, buses, cement, rods, management and even vegetables are brought in from outside, Bhutanese tourism industry relies solely on local talent and resources available within the country.
But now it is under attack. This is insanity at its worst. There can be nothing noble or patriotic about those people who are determined to lead asunder the only industry that is the bastion of Bhutanese entrepreneurial spirit.
Surely something sinister is afoot!
............. to be continued