Sunday, May 19, 2024

BHUTAN: The Emerging High Volume – Low Value Tourism Destination

Day before yesterday I was passing by Norzin Lam when I chanced upon a heart-breaking scene that ought not to be.

Four tourists were cramped inside a small Maruti Taxi – one of them was alighting – visibly irritated and profusely grumbling that she did not need to suffer this level of discomfort.

I wanted to photograph the scene – but decided against it because I believed that this would be tantamount to infringement of privacy – in addition to rubbing salt into the wound.

The legendary Lars-Eric Lindblad. He was a Swedish-American entrepreneur and explorer. He and his USA-based travel company - Lindblad Travel -  led the first-ever tour group to Bhutan in 1974. Supposedly the Darjeeling-based Jesuit Father
 Richard McDonald and his tour company Summit Tours introduced Lindblad to Bhutan.

Lindblad died of a sudden heart attack on 8th of July 1994. At the end, the man with an unputdownable pioneering spirit died a broken and bankrupt man - most likely caused by the penalty of US$ 75,000.00 (in addition to huge legal costs) imposed on his company by the government of USA - for conducting tours to Vietnam and Cambodia - two countries against which there was then a trade embargo imposed by the US government.

It is my belief that tour guides of yore -  the likes of Galing Ngawang Dorji and Sharchop Karchung of present day Lhomen Tours, including the then DoT official Sangey of Ha Wangcha would have had the good fortune to meet the legend.

I spoke about the plight of the tourists to a hapless tourism guide …. and he tells me that now the trained TCB guides are losing their jobs to taxi drivers – because apparently, they are now claiming to be able to provide the service which was earlier, by law, in the domain of the TCB trained and certified guides.

A week back, I was caught with my pants down - literally - inside the toilet of Thimphu’s Kaja Throm – because a friend in the tourism trade decided to call me at that precise moment – and kept me engaged for 10 minutes – grumbling endlessly about the lack of a photocopy machine at the tourist point of entry - to make a copy of his tourists’ papers that the officers needed to process their Entry Permits. The fuming friend wanted to know what the government was doing with the collection of the daily Sustainable Development Fee of US$100.00 per tourist per day – that they are unable to outfit their offices with the most basic, but important and essential office equipment – such as a photocopy machine? Seriously, there are barely four tourist entry points in the country – I mean how is it possible that the TCB or whoever is responsible – is not able to install 4 copiers in the whole of the country - to improve service and experience for the visiting tourists? For God’s sake – they can charge for the service and people will be happy to pay!

And we like to pride ourselves as a High Value, High End Tourism destination! Or, is it High Value – Low Volume Tourism? ---- So utterly confusing! Regardless of what the catch phrase is – we have now arrived at a point that is proving to be: High Volume – Low Value Tourism that is not accruing any benefit – not to the DRC, not to the RMA – and most definitely NOT TO THE INDUSTRY.

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