This is mass tourism in Bhutan

I know this blog is (or should be) mainly about images. But believe me, this is a necessary post in which I need to write and which I hope you take the time to read if you ever considered or feel any interest about how to travel to Bhutan.

Many times I have seen that there is a lot of confusion about Bhutan tourism policy and how to visit the country. Misunderstandings such as “there is a maximum number of visitors to enter each year” or “the visa is very expensive” are common and very wrong ideas that I often read in publications or hear even among people working in the tourism industry.

Bhutan is possibly one of the best examples of (or as close as you can get to) sustainable tourism and one country that is committed to this concept, inspired by the Buddhist view of the interdependence between man and nature.

Examples of “mass tourism” in Bhutan

Expressed in the unique development philosophy — Gross National Happiness — the national policy of high value, low volume tourism asks every visitor to be sensitive to a social, cultural, and environmental system that is trying to preserve the best of its traditions in a rapidly changing world. The government is determined to safeguard its heritage to ensure that the people maintain their dignity against the onslaught of globalisation and modernisation.

As mystical as its name may sound, the Land of the Thunder Dragon is not a museum; it is an existing culture and possibly one of the last living examples of a rich Himalayan society. While tourism may be important as a revenue earner to support the country’s free health and education services, Bhutan sees no gain in succumbing to over commercialism even in the field of tourism. It recognises that a small country emerging from centuries of isolation must do so in its own time and at its own pace. Hence, the policy of high value, low impact tourism aims at enabling Bhutan to share its culture with the world and to learn from visitors who seek a destination that is an anachronism in today’s global fast paced world.

Bhutan opened up to tourism in 1974 and the government adopted a cautious tourism policy. There were 3 main reasons for this approach:

  • to avoid the negative impacts that mass tourism could have on a small country;
  • to ensure that the carrying capacity of the country would not be surpassed and;
  • to ensure a high quality experience to the visitor.

To accomplish this the government together with the industry established that all tourists visiting the country need to use the services of a tour operator and that all visits follow an “all-inclusive” scheme in which accommodation, meals, guide, vehicle and taxes are all included in the price. So no, the visa costs are not very high, but what you pay is in fact for all the services during your visit. What is even more important to know is that the price also includes a royalty or tax which goes to financing free education, a free health system (including for the tourists), and the development of basic infrastructures. So with every visit, not only the visitor gets to discover this unique country, but also contributes to its sustainable development.

And as the world begins to discover the Land of the Thunder Dragon, many go away with a sense of having been in a special place, far from the insanity of modern living. Here is a land where life may not be materially luxurious but it provides much that is good for a society that is not yet caught up with the global rat race.

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