Despite increase in tourist arrivals, spring hasn’t been as promising in bringing in international tourists
Tourism: Despite tourists cancelling their trips to Bhutan following the Nepal earthquake, the country recorded an increase in international tourist arrivals this year.
Records with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) show that as of May this year 24,828 international tourists visited Bhutan, an increase of about 14 percent. During the same period last year, 21,698 international tourists visited Bhutan.
Records show that January, February, and March recorded an increase in arrivals compared to the previous year. However, there was a slight drop in arrivals in April and May with 7,441 and 3,610 international tourists against 7,521 and 4,321 tourists in the previous year during the same period.
Similarly, regional tourist arrivals saw a drastic increase with 45,704 arrivals as of May this year from 24,059 tourists during the same time last year. In all, 65,399 regional tourists visited Bhutan last year. This is the first time the country recorded such arrivals of regional tourists.
TCB officials said Bhutan continues to be seen as an exclusive travel destination. “This is due to selective yet targeted promotional efforts, products and Bhutan being promoted as a year-round destination,” TCB spokesperson Damcho Rinzin said. “Other measures to develop tourism in Bhutan are also being continued.”
Visitors from India, the Maldives and Bangladesh are considered as regional tourists. They are exempt from the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and 200 during the peak and lean seasons that the international tourists pay to visit Bhutan.
Although there is an increase in arrivals for the industry, for individual tour operators and hoteliers, spring wasn’t a promising season despite it being a Visit Bhutan year. However, tour operators are hopeful that more tourists would visit in autumn.
Etho Meto tours and treks had about 20 cancellations in spring following the earthquake. “Those who cancelled their trips in spring postponed it to autumn,” director Sangay T Wangchuk said.
Sangay T Wangchuk said there has also been a drop in European tourists this year compared to the previous year. “We managed to capture the Japanese market during the lean season months as part of the Visit Bhutan year,” he said.
For All Bhutan Connection (ABC) tours, there has been a drastic drop in arrivals in spring compared to the previous year, which the proprietor attributed to the Nepal earthquake and spread of MERs to Thailand.
ABC’s proprietor Tshering Dhendup said with bookings for autumn still coming in, it was hard to tell if the company would get more international tourists this year.
A tour operator who caters to the Asian market said his company has been badly affected by the earthquake as the tourists use Nepal as a transit point. “It gets expensive when tourists come through Bangkok,” he said. “We don’t even have tentative booking for autumn right now so business seems bleak this year.”
The earthquake however also helped some tour operators cater to more tourists as they diverted their trips to Bhutan.
For another tour operator, besides few cancellations in spring, his company was not affected. “It has been the same and there won’t be a substantial difference in arrivals despite the visit Bhutan year,” he said.