Bhutan is one of the more exotic travel destinations. It remains
a secluded, somewhat insular land, nestled within the inaccessible
southeastern slopes of the great Himalayan mountain range.
Since the country opened its doors to tourists, annual numbers
have never exceeded a few thousand. More tourists visit neighboring
Nepal in one year than have ever visited Bhutan. A major reason
for this lies in the government's cautious and pragmatic approach
to modernization in general and tourism in particular. Such
insulation has meant that present-day Bhutan remains the only
of the Himalayan Buddhist Kingdoms to have retained its independence
and overall traditional character. That the Bhutanese appear
to enjoy a simple though fulfilling life within landscapes
of immense natural beauty, serves to promote the impression
of a hidden paradise, a mythical Shangri-la.
Bhutan's Tourism Policy
Tourism in Bhutan is heavily regulated. The Bhutanese government
is particularly aware of the potential dangers of uncontrolled
tourism to the sustainability of Bhutan's environment and
traditional culture. It has therefore tried to limit negative
impacts by putting in place the following rules: a high minimum
entry fee (an all-inclusive flat rate per night); all visitors
must travel through an authorized Bhutanese agent; and tourists
may not visit certain specified regions and holy sites. The
volume of visitors and the scope of their traveling will be
gradually expanded in line with capacities to suitably absorb
them. For more information, you may visit the
Department of Tourism, Bhutan web site.
The Tourism Industry
Bhutan began to welcome tourists in the mid-1970s through
a predominantly state-run infrastructure. The tourist industry
was then cautiously privatized in 1991 and further liberalized
in 1998. There are now 80 authorized agents. The largest five
companies handle about 55% of total tourist numbers. The market,
though remaining small and shaped by government regulations,
is becoming progressively more competitive, with significant
increases in the market-share of mid-sized enterprises. Tourist
facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, are expanding
and improving. Most are of a reasonable standard, however
the variety of service does not match that available in most
places around the world.
Bhutan's main attraction is the state of the country as a
whole. Because it has been so secluded from modern influences,
its traditional Buddhist culture and society, and rich and
diverse environment, have remained to a great extent intact.
It is therefore a fascinating place to simply visit and explore.
By far the most popular tourist activity is cultural touring.
Many choose to arrange a trip to coincide with one of the
annual Buddhist festivals. The other popular activity is trekking,
mostly into the country's little-visited mountainous northern
belt. Visitor arrivals are concentrated in the spring and
autumn. There have been recent efforts to encourage more visitors
during the quiet seasons and diversify into other more focused
activities such as biking, rafting and bird-watching.