Monday, May 29, 2023

Tap Into The Indian Tourism Market

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, I wrote as follows, to record India’s celebration of Bhutan’s reopening of tourism:

“But for me the silver lining at the end of all the razzle-dazzle and show of brilliance and incomparability, has been the demure event that took place in Jaigaon across the border in India, on 24th September, 2022. The Indian business community across the border celebrated Bhutan’s opening of tourism - with their own brand of celebrations. This was a touching moment - a re-enforcement, if any were needed, of their trust and faith in Bhutan, their joy in our small successes, and their commitment to walk the distance with us - through thick and thin. Proof that they will forgive us our minor quirks, as we are wont to do theirs.”

Today I am so encouraged to see hoards and hoards of Indian tourists flooding our tourist starved streets and hotels and restaurants. They bring respite to that segment of Bhutanese society who really, truly needs it - not the preferred lot who cheat the Bhutanese people blind of our dues and entitlements, through under declaration and concealment and outright defiance.

This is what I have been saying for the past many, many years - TAP INTO THE INDIAN TOURISM MARKET! India has among the world’s highest middle class population - a population group that is the most outwardly mobile. Even in terms of geographical proximity, they are the closest to us.
I have said this before on this Blog - they have so much undeclared cash (black money as it is known) - they do not know what to do with it. Let me tell you a true story of how desperate they are to spend their money that they cannot spend in their own country, freely.

During late 1970’s and early 1980’s I was posted in the Indian city of Calcutta, to handle Bhutan’s exportable surpluses. I had a very rich Indian friend who, one day, ask me to help him do shopping for his sweetheart. We went to a happening place called New Market. In one of the upscale shops there, he began selecting shoes and saris for his girl – all of 30 pairs of shoes and 40 odd pieces of silk saris!

I was shocked!

“Bloody hell!! Why so many?”

“Why not? - she can wear one set a day”

“Still, why can’t you use the money for some useful things instead of wasting it on shoes and saris?”

“I can’t - I can’t build a house, I can’t buy a new car, I cannot donate it to good causes. If I did - the taxman will want to know how I came by the money. I have so much of it, I do not know what to do with it. Spending it on shoes and saris for my girl atleast ensures that I have easy time with her - it keeps her purring happily. This way atleast my money has some use.”

You get the drift?

Lest you forget, Indian Rupee is no less an important foreign currency as the $. We provably need it more than the Greenback.

The trick is - aim at the right pockets - do not scrap the bottom of the pot!

India's MICE market is a huge, huge potential begging to be exploited. No one seems to be thinking of it. It is sad.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Is The Mother Who Bore The Satan Guilty Or Not?

Sometime in 1980-81, I was sent to Kuwait on a puzzling assignment - to determine the suitability of the desert Kingdom - for the establishment of a Bhutanese Consulate office. Puzzling because I was not from the Diplomatic Corps - but from trade and commerce. I spent about three weeks in that dust bowl - at the end of which I returned home with nothing but a lifelong abhorrence for that breed of humanoid who don the Dishdasha and the flapping Keffiyeh.

Few years later, on 23rd of May, 1983, Bhutan's Consulate was established in Kuwait - with retired army Maj. Pem Tshering as the first Consul General.

However, this is not a narrative about my first and last trip to Kuwait - but about a strange human thought process to which I had the rare opportunity to bear witness to.

I was asked to accompany a friend to witness the proceedings of a court case in the city of Kuwait - his friend’s case was coming up for hearing on that day. In lethargic Kuwaiti style the cases began to be heard, one after another. Finally, it was the turn of my friend’s friend’s case to be heard.

Judge: “OK - next case”.

The Plaintiff: “Your honor, I am a driver and owner of a taxi. I would like to seek your permission to make my submission, if I may”.

Judge: “Yes, yes, go ahead - present your case’.

The Plaintiff: “Thank You Your Honor - May Allah Be Praised.

The Defendant had hired my taxi a few weeks back, to go to a location where unfortunately I ended up in an accident. The accident is costing me a few thousand Dinars - to fix the car and to pay compensation to others - for damages and injuries caused as a consequence.

It is my submission that the defendant should bear the costs resulting from the accident - for the simple reason that if he had not hired me, I would not have been in that location and if I was not in that location, I would not have ended up in the accident. Thus, my plea is that the accident was caused because I was required to be at a place and during a time when the accident was destined, by the will of Allah, to occur.

Therefore, it is my submission that the court kindly pronounce the Defendant guilty for the accident and require him to pay me restitution of the sum equal to the cost I am now burdened with.

Judge: “Security - remove this idiot from my courtroom!!!”

Four decades and three years later, I get this sense that the same scene is now being orchestrated in the land of GNH - in the case involving the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Amen Bhutan Tours & Treks (Amen) and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

Blowing Hot and Blowing Cold

The RGoB exhibits the tendencies of a kid: blowing hot and blowing cold, alternately. Sometimes it says APPROVED - then in the next breath it says REVOKED - with scant regard for the consequences of its irresponsible actions. It behaves as if it can do whatever it pleases, without owing any responsibility to the citizens - as if they believe that they are beyond reproach and accountability.

ABTO: Crying foul that Amen had stolen some of their members’ clients - as if those members had a monopoly over the clients. If that were not enough - they accuse Amen of unfair advantage - when they damn well know that that advantage was legitimately AUTHORIZED by the RGoB. ABTO fails to point out the obvious and behaves like a limpid reptile consigned to a hot bed of sand. It fails to provide leadership during these times of crisis. It chooses, instead, to single out an industry player for victimization, borne out of their own ignorance and poor grasp of the issues involved.

Amen: A legal entity holding a valid license, issued by the RGoB, to do tourism business and make profit in the process - in the best and most lucrative way they can. If they have been ingenious and creative in their ability to hoodwink the government, that is a measure of their competence - they are not the custodian of the RGoB’s morality - or responsible for the RGoB's failure to do their due diligence. In the meantime Amen is smiling all the way to the bank - while the hecklers are busy barking up the wrong tree.

This is a case of missing the forest for the tree. Nothing new here - it is in the genes of the Bhutanese - to catch the bull by the tail, always!

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB): The original traitors to the industry. They are the sole reason for the failure of the industry and its present state of affairs - they allowed clueless, rank outsiders to trample them under their stampeding feet. A regulatory authority with forty eight (48) years of experience and wisdom - had nothing to offer by way of resistance when their world was being turned upside down. They failed to foresee the present crisis - even worst - they failed to accept the onus of their failure, and do the honorable.

For the history books - posterity will be reminded that the above lot of concerned citizens tried to do the right thing.

On 23rd of June, 2022, as a Member of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) participating in a meeting with the Hon’ble Members of the National Assembly’s Economic & Finance Committee, I had declared that I was willing to give in writing that the Government, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Department of Immigration were, not one of them, ready to implement the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022. We pleaded for the deferment of the implementation of the Bill - by at least a year, in order that old cases could be sorted out first. Regardless, the government bulldozed the Bill through the NA in record three days - totally disregarding the recommendations of the NA’s Finance & Economic Affairs Committee - a group formed with the express purpose to study and make meaningful recommendations. The Committee did a sterling job - but that was not enough - proving the fact that their appointment was merely a sham.

Today many months latter the result is that the tourism industry has been brought to a grinding halt - in the process, impacting livelihood of almost every Bhutanese across the entire spectrum of the Bhutanese society.

Strangely the government went on to implement even that which was not authorized by the Bill - the matter relating to the SDF.

The Parliament endorsed the SDF for tourists only - NOT for the non-tourists. But currently the government is adamant that the SDF is applicable to government guests, as well as to members of the donor agencies and others.

What exactly does "Revoked" entail, in the context of the present controversy surrounding RGoB/ABTO/Amen/TCB? If it does mean what I understood it to mean, the order would translate into foregoing the above economic contribution to Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

The numbers are computed at 1,600 tourists of Amen - imagine the numbers involved if we where to calculate based on the tens of thousands of tourists who have been deterred from visiting Bhutan as a consequence of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022.

And no one is being held accountable - every one is getting away scot free - on the excuse that they do what they do - for the long-term benefit of the country - even while dead bodies are piling up by the wayside. Now even a commercial entity like the DHI tells us that they have done what they have done - in the long-term interest of the country and the people of Bhutan. And, that, in their unmatched wisdom, is forgivable and perfectly all right.

Well & Truly AMEN!

Friday, May 5, 2023

Crypto, Crypto Why For Art Thou Crypto?

The Forbes on 15th of last month laid bare Bhutan’s jealously guarded secret foray into crypto currency investment. That forced the Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) to come clean about Bhutan’s hitherto unadmitted investment into the realm of the incredible and the poorly comprehended. From all accounts crypto currency mining is a rarefied domain of the bold and the daring. But all are in agreement that it is the thing of the future!!

The digital Tiru

I am told that one can speak to a million experts on the subject and each of them would have completely different interpretations of his/her own - with one exception - absolute uniformity in the divergence of views. The most outlandish of them would be WRONG and the most innocuous would be RIGHT.

The novelty of the idea is that a minuscule country like Bhutan has dared tread the path that few other loftier nations have not dared walk.

The question whether we did right or wrong will have to remain mute for the present - what is to be admired is that we had the gumption to go for it - full throttle! Striking a partnership with the crypto currency evangelist and China’s #2 crypto billionaire Jihan Wu and his company Bitdeer operating out of Singapore is, in my view, another strategically smart move - his credentials in the field is impressive and second to none.

Strangely some tell me that while most of us within the country remain clueless about the new-fangled opportunity, some Bhutanese abroad are already investing in the crypto wallet - attributing, in part, to the sudden dip in inward remittances of $$.

Bhutan is considered among the world’s most preferred places for locating crypto currency farms. The reason: we have among the world's cheapest raw material for the product. And I believe that over time we can make it many fold cheaper. Perhaps not at the level of what Kuwait can offer currently - world’s cheapest at US$ 1,400.00 per Bitcoin. But at US$11,750.00 per Bitcoin, Bhutan is miles ahead of India’s US$40,450.00 per Bitcoin and the world’s most expensive – at US$246,530.00 per Bitcoin - for Venezuela.

For me, I have only one fear - will the three or four of our crypto currency farms have a bearing on the country’s burgeoning demand for the raw material - for more critical internal consumption? If yes, that is something we MUST NOT HAVE. Remember - a bird in hand is worth more than many in the bush.

In the dark and gloomy lanes and by-lanes of the crypto currency realm, there is not yet a single clairvoyant who can predict for certain the future of Bitcoins. Already crashes and tumbles are a norm.

But hell!! - there is no gain without pain, right?

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Retrograde, Mirrored, Inverted Etc. Etc.

No one ever told me that writing a book in a foreign language would be easy - I am learning it the hard way how fraught with pitfalls it can prove to be. But where I am concerned, writing a book in my own language would have been even more testing - because I cannot write a crummy line in Zhoogkha/Dzongkha 😂

In an attempt to hasten the process of completing my coin book which has been in the works for the past over a decade, I revisited my coin labels - all neatly typed out with descriptions, weights and measurements. I had believed that I was past that tiresome exercise. But one can never be too careful … some careless mistakes could always creep in.

I felt an instinctive uneasiness when I reached the pages where the variety of Sa Maartangs were described and labeled. I stopped to take a harder look at the series of following coin labels:

Retrograde SaInverted NDra? Am I sure I got them right?

I have been vexed by my doubt about the exact meaning of the words, particularly in reference to projected images: Inverted, Mirrored, Retrograde etc. etc. I decided to get a proper understanding of the meaning of the words. I went into a deep delve - including asking uncle Google. I discovered as follows:

          When a planetary object is in motion - on a backward direction.

          An image as seen when reflected back from a mirror.

          When an image is upside down - when the top is at the bottom and the bottom is on top.

I realized that I had gotten it all wrong. The NDra was NOT inverted - it was mirrored. So was the alphabet Sa - it was NOT in retrograde. Thus, now I have the stupendous task of rewriting a large portion of the coin labels - change all the “Inverted” and “Retrograde” to “Mirrored”.

Oh man, SO BORING!!!

Explanation: It is clear that some of the artisans who engraved the coin dies did not know that the dies have to be engraved with the mirrored images of the designs they want reproduced on the coins. Thus, some of our hammered coins ended up being depicted as mirrored images - like thus:

Flawed work of inexperienced engravers!