Redefining Bhutan’s tourism has begun with new branding. Happiness was a place. Now it is about believing what Bhutan truly is. The last Shangri-La? Bhutan was never the last Shangri-La. Bhutan is beyond ideas and concepts. We are presenting Bhutan as a top-end tourist destination. What this means is that we need to sell ourselves, Bhutan and Bhutanese, as high-end destination for international visitors. Understanding this is critically important.
The question is: are we doing that?
We need to get past petty complaints and squabbles. When the change is radical, there will be disruptions. Hoteliers will make noise as will tour operators. The age of comfort is gone for us all. We are now in the era of new Bhutan. The good thing is that Bhutan will always remain Bhutan, that quaint little country in the Himalayas that without even economic and military powers wants to shape an image of a world that is beautiful and worth celebrating. That’s the “Believe” in Bhutan’s business strategy today. And it is working well. However, throwing in a fancy tagline will not work in the long term. The provision of services should be first class so that our guests feel they got their money’s worth. Are we providing that? Not yet. The systems need to be in place. The image of Bhutan starts from, for example, the employees of the nation’s two air services. Comparatively, ours is a highly professionalised sector. But for the guests to enjoy or experience Bhutan, there is much more we can and should give.
When we sell ourselves as a high-end destination, only our manners and behaviours will not do. Tourists come to Bhutan to experience Bhutan raw. That’s why understanding our own roles is by far more important. We must have a few high-end hotels, of course, but we must also have structured services in the villages where high-paying tourists would want to experience true Bhutanese hospitality. Developing or upgrading tourism in the country is being unfortunately misunderstood. It’s not about a few individuals and companies making fat money out of the business of bringing tourists into the country; it’s about individuals and companies fighting to give the best Bhutan experience to the visitors. More than changing Bhutan’s tourism tagline, there is a need to improve services. How can tourists conveniently change currencies, for example? Defining Bhutan’s new tourism policy and strategy means upgrading the country’s service sector. As tourists have started to fly in, we haven’t much time to bask in the sun