Bhutan’s Tourism Policy of High-Value Low Volume To Outlive The COVID 19 Pandemic

Dorji Dhradul, Director General, Tourism Council of Bhutan, Kingdom of Bhutan

Since its inception in the 1970s, tourism in Bhutan followed a uniquely sustainable approach to tourism development guided by the policy of High value, Low volume. The premise of this approach is rooted in our national development philosophy of Gross National Happiness and seeks to promote sustainable tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and destinations while enhancing and ensuring opportunities for the future.

Bhutan’s tourism practice has been guided by the policy of High value, Low volume which mainly targets mindful and responsible visitors, creating good value for money experiences, higher revenue and yield per capita, quality infrastructure, and tourism products and services and Brand Bhutan. The policy also ensures that the number of tourists Bhutan receives is consistent with the absorptive carrying capacity of our natural endowment, socio-cultural values and infrastructure and does not exacerbate the vulnerabilities as a small nation.

While we might not have fully exploited the economic potentials of tourism, tourism has emerged as a key economic sector, contributing significantly to the national revenue and employment opportunity. But on the other hand, we can say Bhutan did fairly well in terms of Branding Bhutan.

For instance, Bhutan has received numerous international recognition for our contribution and leadership in sustainable tourism, the most recent is the recognition of Bhutan as the number one travel destination for 2020 by the Lonely Planet.

Therefore today, the Bhutanese citizen unanimously attribute this exemplary achievement and success in tourism to the farsightedness of the Fourth King His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who was at the helm when the country opened to the tourist for the first time in the 1970s. This sentiment of gratitude is aptly expressed by His Majesty The King in the Royal address at the 11th Convocation of the Royal University of Bhutan in 2016, as follows:

“…….   It was suggested to us then that Bhutan would benefit economically from bringing in as many tourists as possible into the country. At that time, Bhutan was largely unknown to the outside world. And yet, with Drukgyal Zhipa at the helm, we had the confidence to make our own decisions- to decide that our approach to tourism policy would be that of high-value low volume. It seemed counter-intuitive at a time when tourists to Bhutan were so few. There were many skeptics. But because of that policy, Brand Bhutan emerged. And you see the results of that policy for yourselves today. In hindsight, we realize the profound wisdom of that decision, but we could have easily gone the other way, had it not been for that conviction we had to forge our own path, our future, and our destiny”- 

Today, the Kingdom of Bhutan is known as a land of serenity, spirituality, happiness, pristine nature, unique culture, different, magical, mystical and high-value low volume tourism. True to the essence of these labels, the country has consistently portrayed unprecedented moves and exhibited transcendental measures – be it the happiness driven developmental philosophy; the top-down introduction of democracy; the people’s Monarchy; the preservation of culture; the championing of environment protection; unique tourism policy and crisis management such as the COVID 19 pandemic,  all under the extraordinary leadership of our destined Monarchs.

Coming to the handling of COVID 19 pandemic, again under the visionary leadership of our King, thus far, we have done exemplarily well with only imported positive cases, no local transmission and no loss of life as of August 2020.

Globally, one of the learnings from COVID 19 is the realization of the importance of personal well being. Connecting this to tourism, we believe, the future tourist will prioritize well being and wellness, wherein abundance of space against the crowding will be an important criterion in choosing a travel destination. In this regard, Bhutan sees a clear silver lining in the COVID 19 in the form of the enhanced relevance of our tourism policy of High-Value Low Volume. Under this unique policy, since the start of tourism in the 1970s, all tours in Bhutan are guided, which becomes even more relevant today with new normal tourism practices.

Personal space is integral to personal wellbeing and Bhutan has always been about the ‘space’: managing visitor numbers so that all visitors get their own space to experience Brand Bhutan in peace. ‘High value, Low volume’ is about not crowding tourism sites and letting those privileged travelers to have their own space.  

Therefore, we believe the restart of tourism is likely to be easier for Bhutan than it will be for other travel destinations. This is due to our long-standing tourism policy of “High Value, Low Volume,” that shall remain in place as it promotes sustainable tourism based on the carrying capacity of our nature and culture, our socio-economic and infrastructural reality.

The above narrative is just a pie of the larger picture and experience from the birthplace of Gross National Happiness development philosophy.

As the world is consumed into a trench of anxiety and uncertainties due to current occurrences, we await to embrace our guests with much positivity when the travel resumes.