Bhutan

Bhutan is back and ready to travel

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Bhutan, which closed its borders on March 22, 2020 due to the global pandemic, is a bucket list destination for many adventure travellers. They have since reopened with a new tourism strategy focusing on three main areas: sustainability, infrastructure upgrades and enhanced guest experience.

sustainability

Bhutan has increased its Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) to US$200 per person per night, which will fund projects that support Bhutan’s economic, social, environmental and cultural development.

Proceeds raised will fund state investment in projects that preserve Bhutanese cultural traditions, sustainable development projects, infrastructure upgrades and opportunities for young people, and provide free healthcare and education to its population.

Some of the SDF funds are used to offset tourists’ carbon footprints by planting trees, upskilling tourism industry workers, cleaning and maintaining trails, and reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

As a country particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change (experiencing melting glaciers, floods and unpredictable weather patterns), Bhutan will also step up efforts to maintain its status as one of the few carbon-negative countries in the world. WORLD – Bhutan has sequestered 9.4 million tonnes of carbon in 2021 out of its 3.8 million tonnes of emissions capacity.

The Bhutanese government has also used the COVID-19 shutdown to upgrade roads, trails, temples and monuments across the country, upgrade public bathroom facilities, organize trash removals, and strengthen standards and accreditation processes for tourism service providers (e.g. hotels, tour guides, travel agents and drivers). Employees across the travel industry are required to participate in upskilling programs to focus on improving service quality.

Bhutan Tourist Demographics

Bhutan has historically attracted adventure seekers – those drawn to high-altitude excursions, trekking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. It also attracts wellness professionals – drawn to spiritual traditions and healing rituals, such as traditional Bhutanese hot stone baths and the region’s native herbs and wild mushrooms). The range of travelers now also includes birdwatchers – those seeking a chance to catch a glimpse of the hundreds of bird species found here. Another new tourist demographic is design/craft lovers, who are attracted by the unique architecture, colorful textiles and its 13 protected craft traditions, such as pottery, blacksmithing, sculpture and woodworking.

A major change in Bhutan’s visitor policy is that tourists now have the flexibility to book flights, hotels and tours directly. The government has simplified the booking process, allowing customers greater flexibility in terms of visa dates and expiry dates. Additionally, the minimum spend per visitor has been replaced by an increased direct sustainability fee paid directly to the government.

A Unique Bhutanese Experience

Bhutan has a unique combination of subtropical jungle and northern glaciers. It is home to endangered species such as black-necked cranes, blue sheep, golden langurs, takins and the Royal Bengal tiger.

Some of the more unique experiences include:

𝐒𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐓𝐫𝐞𝐤, one of the most challenging hikes in the world and also the least explored.

The 𝐓𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐃𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐨𝐧 is one of the toughest one-day mountain bike races in the world, stretching 140 miles over four mountain passes, taking cyclists from central Bhutan to the capital in a single day.

𝐒𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐑𝐮𝐧, the ultimate race in climate action, traverses over 126 miles of challenging mountain passes.

𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐁𝐡𝐮𝐭𝐚𝐧 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐥, a 250-mile trail connecting Haa in the west to Trashigang in the east, has been used as a pilgrimage route since the 16th century.

There are several options for accommodation, including Guntey Hut, high up in the Phobjikha (Guntey) valley, overlooking a 17th-century monastery and the valley floor. The Bhutanese farmhouse style lodge is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and has 12 suites. The hotel is seeing a trend of people looking to book in advance. Most of their guests are 55 and over and book through travel agents. Those who book directly through the site are young honeymooners. The largest markets are the US and the UK.

Bhutan still maintains an almost mythical status in the eyes of many travellers. Few people know it exists or how to get there, and even fewer have actually visited – even though it’s only a three-hour flight from Bangkok. It remains one of the few places in the world where nature, culture and traditions remain untouched, thanks to its high entry fees due to its sustainability costs.

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