Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Welcome to PDP Government

The new government is now firmly on the seat of governance – we have to accept that there is no altering the fact. They may not be the government of your choice – that is not important. What is true is that they are now the men about town and all of us must respect that, and give support as best as we can.

The winning Horse

I am not so naïve as to believe that they will fulfill even 10% of their campaign promises. If they fail, it will be because you have been unrealistic in your expectations. But I am convinced that they will try their best ----- and that is all that I can expect from them – give their very best.

But I do wish that they would take on a number of initiatives on a priority basis. I talk of things that are doable - and necessary - nothing that will require billions of Ngultrums, or years of planning. I hope that they work on the following two:

1.  Reworking the Tourism policy

2.  Rationalizing the airfares of the Druk Air

The new Prime Minister’s first day in office does set out some useful priorities ---- and among them he mentions tourism. But he makes the same mistake the past government did – he is trusting that the Bhutanese embassies abroad will do the job.

I hope he will soon realize that there is more than enough in-country competence to do the job better than any paid clueless consultants or embassy staff.

Through this post, I would like to appraise the Prime Minister that the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) had already offered to help out the government should they need help. The help was offered through the now disbanded (although officially un-notified) Tourism Council Board and also to the Finance and Economic Committee of the DNT government during a meeting with the Committee in which some of the Members of the BSTS was present.

I dare say, on behalf of the BSTS, that the offer still stands – we will be happy to sort out the mess – GRATIS!

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Promoting Bhutan as a MICE Destination

Things do finally happen in Bhutan – but why does it take years for the Bhutanese Dashos to be “on the ball”? I have been shouting for years that Bhutan should tap into the MICE market – we have the ideal conditions to appeal to corporate honchos around the world… charming places like Paro, Haa, Phobjikha, Bumthang and now the Mindfulness City of Ge-SAR - are all potential destinations of appeal.

Beginning from 2018, I have been writing that we should gear up as a MICE destination:

Finally, this morning I see a mail from the mighty Department of Tourism (DoT) that they are allowing SDF waiver for MICE event participants. I would like to offer them CONGRATULATIONS on this very welcome announcement.

The DoT has finally woken up

However, I would like to suggest that the rules should provide for SDF waiver for the participants’ spouse and one child. After all we have to remember that MICE events are corporate sponsored events and the officials attending the events would want to take advantage of the corporate sponsorship and bring along their spouses and children to experience a new country and culture.

With the right amount of broadening of their minds, the DoT cannot fail to see the benefit in doing so. As I said often, the indirect benefits are more substantive than the direct ones.

Also, something that the DoT needs to clarify is that the MICE participants are allowed to overstay beyond the MICE designated period of 4 nights – but with full SDF payment, for the additional days beyond the MICE period.

Few months back a friend sought my advice – whether he should continue and complete the construction of his tourism class hotel, or reconfigure it to serve as something else. I told him that he definitely should stay the course --- because I told him that NOTHING but NOTHING, can prevent tourism from happening in Bhutan. Ofcourse – other than the lousy government’s tourism policy ….. and the exorbitant fare of the near monopoly Druk Air - the national flag carrier of Bhutan!

For example, the Rotary International is a mammoth global humanitarian organization that has over 46,000 clubs spread over 200 countries across the globe. Its global membership is in excess of 1.4 million individuals. The Rotary Club of Thimphu has already organized 2 international Rotary conferences – another one is scheduled to be organized soon.

2018: Conference of the Rotary International District 3292

2017: A throng of Rotarians from around the glob: 7 RI Districts, 38 Clubs and 108 Rotarians

In addition to being the world’s most populous countries, India and China are two countries that are in close proximity to Bhutan – they are provably the world’s second and third largest economies with thousands of corporate giants seeking new venues to host their Annual General Meetings.

In November of 2022, India’s Travel + Leisure sector awarded Bhutan “Editor’s Choice Award in the ‘Best Emerging Destination’ (international)”.

Last December, Bhutan was awarded the "Outstanding Destination Excellence Award" in the Chinese travel market.

With all that under our belt, what is preventing Bhutan from grabbing a slice of the pie?

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Gelephu Mindfulness City Project - I

The Mindfulness City within the Gelephu Special Administrative Region (Ge-SAR) is being planned over a continuous expanse of flat land stretching over a thousand square kilometers. That is a whooping 2.60% of the country’s total land surface area!

On a trip to the Phulari Vantage Point (above Bhutan’s largest water project located in Samtenling Gewog of Sarpang Dzongkhag) conducted by His Majesty the King on the afternoon of 4th January, 2024 – we were treated to the visual vastness of the project area – said to extend from Kanamakura in Gelephu to Lhamoizingkha, in Dagana.

Visual grasp of the full expanse of the SAR’s geographical area was impossible. So, I attempted to imagine it in my mind’s eye – absolutely not possible either. That is when something else hit me with a bang! – that a space so wide and flat and uninterrupted by deep ravines and canyons would offer possibilities that is impossible in a geography littered with craggy hills and mountains and plunging chasms of precipices that make up the geography of the rest of His Kingdom.

Quite obviously His Majesty the King recognized the boundless potential in a geography that I realized is incomparable to anything else anywhere in the country. It is clear then that His Majesty’s choice of location is spot on: abundant land, no hills and mountains to level, easier connectivity and access to international markets, possibility for rapid infrastructure build-up when the need arises, geographical flexibility to be able to adapt to changing situations and realities, proximity to the vast Indian market that is only a few hundred feet away from the border and, above all, the promise of the upcoming transportation projects for mass movement of bulk cargo - both human and merchandize!

Given the enormity of the perception I realize that it is not possible to conceive the entire project in its entirety at one go – it has to be a work in constant progress with the elasticity to change and adapt. I think it is for this reason that even after being fortunate enough to be comprehensively briefed four times by His Majesty personally, I dare not claim that I have understood even 5% of the vision – it is just too complex and the scale too enormous!

On the early morning of 6th January when I was preparing to depart for Phibsoo scheduled for 7.30AM, a writer friend from South Asia who had heard of Bhutan’s Mindfulness City Project asked me if I was convinced. I told him that that was unimportant – that the architect of the vision appears to be wholly and completely convinced!

Bhutan is fortunate that this is happening at this present juncture – we have the potential – we have the benefit of a youthful monarch who has the guts and the courage to take on a responsibility that He knows is needed at this point in our history. We have to understand that few years from now His Majesty will begin to slide into a state of waning courage and diminishing nerve.

We do not want His Majesty to grow into a wizened old man sitting in a corner and thinking: Oh God, youth wasted in the young. We need to encourage His Majesty to take this on full throttle - NOW! - before wisdom begins to tamper His youthful courage and energy!