Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lowest Growth in Tourist Numbers

Bhutan’s infinite charms were able to draw only 10 percent more tourists last year – the lowest growth in five years. But the rise in the dollar, and the minimum daily tariff brought some relief.

In all, 116,224 international and regional tourists visited last year.

The international or dollar-paying tourists arrival was 52,798, an increase of only 329 tourists from the previous year.

Bhutan is facing rising competition from destinations, such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka. So major festivals like the Paro and Thimphu tshechus couldn’t draw crowds like before.

Americans beat the Japanese to reemerge as the top market, with 6,927 visitors compared to 4,015 Japanese. For the first time, China became the second top market clocking 4,764 visitors.

A majority of the visitors continue to be Indians, classified as regional tourists and who do not require visas.

Regional tourists are exempt from the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 per person a day.

The ‘Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer’ aimed at attracting Thai nationals during the leaner months of June, July and August was much awaited considering the effort towards lean season promotion.

Tourism Council of Bhutan still hasn’t revealed the total revenue or statistics of the jobs created in the tourism industry.

There were four tourist deaths. A Swedish woman fell below Bumdra, above Taktsang monastery. An Indian couple drowned in Mebartsho, Bumthang. One Japanese died from altitude sickness.

At least one tourist dies in Bhutan every year despite support and precautionary measures in place.

International tourists either die from altitude sickness or a previous medical condition. Most deaths among regional tourists are from mishaps, especially at the Mebartsho.

With 273 licenses issued last year, it rose threefold compared to the previous years. Among the applicants were contractors, whose businesses were affected by loan restrictions from financial institutions.

Hotel constructions are also on the rise. There are 63 hotels under construction in 14 dzongkhags. The highest is in Thimphu at 20 constructions, seven in Paro, five in Bumthang, three in Trashigang, and one in Trashiyangtse.

In general, the snake year treated the tourism sector well. The sector is optimistic for the year ahead.
But there is still a lot that needs to be done, if comments posted on various travel websites are an indication. Food and hygiene in the country have been criticised very often.

By Kinga Dema (Printed in Kuensel on 4th March, 2014)

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