Domestic Tourism to boost Local Economy in Bhutan

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Although Bhutanese have not seen tourists for the last few months, locals are riding the bandwagon of being "tourists in one's own community".

Although Bhutanese have not seen tourists for the last few months, locals are riding the bandwagon of being "tourists in one's own community".

Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974 when western Bhutan was opened up to international visitors for the first time.  Bhutan’s tourism has undergone a  transformation since the  1990s.  In  1990, the state monopoly ceased with the privatization of the tourism industry and the opening up of the tourism business to  Bhutanese entrepreneurs. This move was designed to foster private sector development and at the same time attract much-needed revenue for the country’s economic development. 

In light of its importance and potential,  tourism was recognized as the key to private sector growth in Bhutan’s 9th Five Year Development Plan (2002-2007). However, to minimize negative impacts on the national socio-cultural and ecological heritage, the country adopted ecotourism as the national tourism strategy and decided to pursue a ‘high value,  low impact’ policy.

During this rebooting time, they hope to restructure, redesign, reinforce, reskill, and revitalize our infrastructure, human resources, systems, services, cleanliness, and many other tourism facilities and services to make planning travel to Bhutan easier, in-country services and systems better organized and seamlessly delivered, and the in-country experience more exclusive.

With the tourism sector heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is working to restore the livelihood of those working in the sector and also to boost the local economy. The TCB officially permits domestic tourism through a notification a few days ago. Domestic tourism activities will be allowed with adherence to health and safety advisory to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.

In domestic tourism, locals either individually or in a group will be allowed to travel within the country and carry out activities including trekking, hiking, rafting, hot spring and hot stone bath, swimming, horse riding, camping, pilgrimage, bird watching, cycling, helicopter ride, and others.

Although Bhutanese have not seen tourists for the last few months, locals are riding the bandwagon of being "tourists in one's own community". Hiking and Trekking have become some of the most anticipated getaway activities that many urbanities seek today. However, the council mandates individuals to carry out any activities related to travelling and trekking to abide by COVID-19 health and safety protocols.


Highlanders from Merak, Tashigang 

According to Dorji Dhradul, the Director-General of TCB he said, "We have started works on promoting domestic tourism pre-COVID but with the pandemic, it became even more urgent. Since we don’t have international tourists, we feel that at least locals travelling around would somehow give a boost to the local economy. We are working on this and in fact, it was already announced by the government but maybe a formal notification wasn’t issued and it is coming formally for the first time,”

In addition, TCB also mandates domestic tourists and tour operators to register with the council if the tour is beyond four nights and passes through communities, especially remote settlements.

And the council also limits the maximum number of people in a group to 15 people for both pilgrimage and trekking tours. The TCB, local governments and other relevant agencies will be monitoring to ensure that domestic tourism is conducted while keeping with the conditions and COVID-19 health and safety protocols at all times.


Local Trekkers in Haa 

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