Bhutan Strives to Keep Up With 4th Industrial Revolution through Digitalization in Tourism Sector
The pandemic has affected the tourism industry globally including Bhutan. The stakeholders involved in the tourism industry is taking the opportunity to look into digitalization.
The very first time Bhutan opened up tourism to the world was in 1974. It happened during the coronation of the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Since then, Bhutan has opened its door with caution. To ensure sustainability and preservation of its identity and cultures, the Kingdom implemented its well-known 'High Value, Low Volume' tourism policy.
During the infancy stage of tourism, little hotels were present. Some of the oldest hotels such as Hotel Olathang, Hotel Motithang, and Hotel Kharbandi (which is now RIGSS Hostel) were constructed to accommodate the visiting dignitaries to the coronation ceremony.
In 1974 when the country was opened up for tourism, tourists arrivals were a mere 287. Tourism sector is a significant contribution to Bhutan's socio-economic development. It helps the country to increase revenue and creates employment for the Bhutanese. It is evident that the tourism industry in Bhutan has continued to grow steadily over the years. The year 2019 saw a total of 315,599 foreign individuals visiting Bhutan which is a 15.14% increase as compared to 2018.
From a single tour operator in 1974, there are currently over a thousand licensed tour companies engaged in tourism businesses.
In 1982, Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC) was created as a Division under the Department of Trade (DoT) to take over its commercial operations. The DoT remained the controlling authority responsible for policy issues. Later on, it was renamed Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC) as a corporation of the Royal Government.
With the privatization of the tourism trade in the country, the government’s tourism organization morphed into a regulatory authority – known as Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB). In 1991, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) became the mainstream platform for tourism-related activities alongside the CSOs such as Association of Tour Operator, Guides Association of Bhutan, Hotel Association of Bhutan and Handicraft Association of Bhutan.
Bhutan's name and fame in the international community continue to rise as a sustainable tourism destination. In March 2019, ITB Berlin awarded Bhutan with the Green Destinations Gold Award in Germany. The award is an acknowledgment of Bhutan’s efforts in the preservation of its rich culture and traditions, pristine environment, and definitely the social well-being of the people.
Bhutan was also recognized as the number one travel destination for 2020 by Lonely Planet in October 2019. To many travelers around the world, Bhutan has been a dream travel destination since 1974.
Bhutan and Digitalization in Bhutan
The pandemic has affected the tourism industry globally including Bhutan. The stakeholders involved in the tourism industry is taking the opportunity to look into digitalization. As information and communications technology (ICT) is becoming more integral in the global economy, Bhutan is also striving to adapt.
The importance of ICT is felt more acutely now with almost everything being shifted to the digital sphere. Currently, Bhutan is still in the early stage of adopting new technologies, online platforms, and social media for destination marketing.
Tourism Council of Bhutan held an online forum and panel discussion recently. The prominent panelists discussed the need for tour operators to incorporate ICT into their operations. Tour operators need to evolve and leverage the use of technology to market Bhutan as an exclusive travel destination. The discussion also focused on incorporating 3Cs - Collaboration, Communication, and Creative Thinking. These are attempts to prepare the country's tourism sector for the digital future.
The stakeholders realized that digitalization presents opportunities in the tourism industry. It can help businesses to expand their market reach, increase growth, improve operational efficiencies, and sharpen their competitive edge. Digital technologies can also add values by developing and customizing product offerings, improving destination connectivity, and destination management.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan in collaboration with the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT), Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) will be conducting an online course under Google Volunteer Support Program on Business & Marketing. The online course includes sub-topics such as Digital Skills to Work Effectively, Facilitate Virtual Meetings, Digital Marketing tools, Getting your Business Online, Resource for Entrepreneurs and Digital Skills for Job Seekers.
Amid lockdown and the pandemic situation, the tourism industry is actively in discussion, deliberation, innovation, and creation of new products. Currently, tour operators are constantly working on new initiatives with the hope that Bhutan reopens the tourism industry.
We sure hope that we can welcome tourists to the Kingdom again soon.