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Bhutan Tourism

Tourist arrivals continue to increase

24 March, 2007 - Tourists visiting Bhutan continue to increase but those coming for the Paro tshechu have significantly dropped this year say tourism officials.

From January till March so far, about 3,706 tourists visited the country compared with about 2,362 tourists during the same months last year. This year, March alone accounted for about 2,449 tourists of which 1,755 came to witness the Paro tshechu, which begins on March 29.

Last year more than 2,500 tourists came to witness the Paro tshechu in April out of about 3,393 who visited the country that month.

But the increasing number of tourists was a major challenge because hotel rooms and seats on Druk Air were limited.

Thinley W Dorji of Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited, which is bringing about 500 tourists for the Paro tshechu said that finding accommodation for their tourists was the biggest glitch, especially when there were almost 200 tour operators in the country.

“A lot of tourists are unable to come to the country because of the accommodation problem,” said Thinley W Dorji, adding that the present infrastructure was limited and those that were being built were not coming up fast enough. “Sometimes our clients have to put up in substandard hotels,” he said.

Standard hotels like the Druk in Thimphu had all its 52 rooms booked since March 23.

According to its senior manager, Dilu Giri, about 70 to 80 tour operators had requested for rooms for the Paro tshechu, which were divided among the top ten tour companies.

Getting Druk Air tickets, Yangphel’s managing director, Karma Lotey said, was another problem.

“Druk Air should anticipate more tourists during festivals and peak seasons and introduce additional flights way in advance so that tour operators could bring in more tourists,” Karma Lotey said.

Druk Air’s commercial manager, Tshering Penjor, explained that every additional flight was planned and that increasing the flight frequency was commercially not viable for the corporation.

He said that although tourists filled in the seats of the additional flights while flying into the country, the planes literally flew out empty.

“We have to think about all the 114 seats on the plane,” Tshering Penjor told Kuensel adding that tour operators normally planned their clients’ flight schedule a day prior to the festivals and a day after it. “They should consider planning their tourists’ flight coinciding with our normal schedule.”

Another newcomer in the business, Dorji, who runs the Golden Temple Tours and Treks prefers to bring in tourists during the lean season.

“That is the only time most good hotel rooms are easily available and getting air tickets is not a problem,” said Dorji, who brought in about six tourists in 2006.

12 January, 2007 - Just as the Department of Tourism had projected last year, the tourism industry earned about US $ 24 million from 17,365 tourists that visited the country in the past 12 months.

The visitors came through 166 registered tour companies of the total 250 in the country. Royalties paid by the industry to the government increased from US $ 6.5 million in 2005 to US $ 8.3 million in 2006.

Records with the tourism department in Thimphu show that about 37 tour operators brought in between 950 and 100 tourists in 2006. Between 100 and 50 tourists visited the country through 16 tour operators, between 50 and 20 tourists through 30 tour operators and 21 tour operators brought in between 20 and 10 tourists. The rest 58 tour operators saw between 10 and one individual tourist visiting the country in the whole of 2006.

Month wise records of tourist arrivals show a dropping trend in December, January and February, which sees about 300 to more than 600 tourists and picking up in March and April to more than 1,000 to 3,000 tourists.

The number dwindles again between May and August to 200 and 900 tourists and peaks between September till November, which sees between 2,000 and 3,000 tourists.

The increase in the number of tourists, tourism officials said, was a global phenomenon and in Bhutan, it could be clearly attributed to the kind of promotion done over the past five years. “We have been in the international news for sometime and we were always reflected in a positive light,” said the director general of the tourism department, Lhatu Wangchuk. “We have been declared as the number one tourist destination in the world.”

Tourists from the USA still topped in terms of numbers followed by the UK and Japan. The country continues to get “matured tourists” between 40-years and 70-years of age.

The director general said that tourists from European countries was also increasing and so were tourists from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Although trekking is improving, Lhatu Wangchuk said that culture tourism still remains the main product in tourism in the country.

He said that as the tourism department develops more trek routes and encourages community tourism like the Nabji and Korphu trail, they expect to have more tourists into trekking.

“We operated about 15 groups on that trail in one season in 2006, which is quite a good number to begin with,” said Lhatu Wangchuk. “The package is still continuing since it is a winter activity, between October and March.”

He also that the department was developing winter packages for tourists, in places like Trashigang, Mongar, Trongsa and Zhemgang.

Considering that the tariff on tourists visiting the country has not been revised for the last 15-years or so, Lhatu Wangchuk said that they were looking into possibilities of raising the tariff by 20 or 25 percent a day for each tourist.

“We have to ask the tour operators to sell their packages at higher price but provide quality services and facilities like better transportation, food, guide services and standard accommodation,” he said.

He said that having spent the last four years focussing on policy issues, strategy and tourism act, the department would now shift its focus on raising hotel standards and creating better infrastructure.

“The minimum standard for hotels in the country should be three star for Bhutan to do well,” Lhatu Wangchuk said. “We will not accept anything lower than that.”

The Zhiwaling resort in Paro, which recently started operation saw 24 percent occupancy with inquiries and reservations still coming in.

Hotel Druk in Thimphu had about 47 percent occupancy in 2006. In the last two years, it saw only one or two percent increase in the number of tourists putting up in their hotel.

“Although the number of tourists is increasing every year, they get consumed by the many new hotels coming up and offering slightly lower rates and introducing new products,” said the hotel’s senior manager, Dilu Giri.

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