Bhutan: The nation’s Tourism council looks to future for nation and tourists with ‘Believe’ as new branding strategy

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) launched the new brand Bhutan “Believe” on Sept. 22.

The country unveiled a new tourism strategy, underpinned by transformations in three key areas: enhancements to its sustainable development policies, infrastructure upgrades and the elevation of the guest experience.

Bhutan’s new tagline, believe, reflects this determined focus on the future, as well as the transformative journeys experienced by its guests.

“Brand Bhutan” aims to capture the optimism and renewed ambition of the kingdom as it opens its doors to guests once again, as well as communicating its promise and plans for its young citizens. During the launch, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said that Bhutan’s noble policy of high value, low volume tourism has existed since we started welcoming guests to our country in 1974.

“But its intent and spirit were watered down over the years, without us even realizing it. Therefore, as we reset as a nation after this pandemic, and officially open our doors to visitors today, we are reminding ourselves about the essence of the policy, the values and merits that have defined us for generations,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that we must also ensure that we are a high-value society, one that is infused with sincerity, integrity and principles, where people must always live in safe communities, among serene environments and derive comfort from the finest facilities.

“Typically, ‘high value’ is understood as exclusive high-end products and extravagant recreational facilities. But that is not Bhutan. And, ‘low volume’ doesn’t mean limiting the number of visitors. We will appreciate everyone who visits us to treasure our values, while we also learn as much from them. If that is what you are searching for, there is no limit or restriction,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen also mentioned that the best conduit to realizing Bhutan’s vision are the youths and professionals in the tourism industry. While those working in the tourism sector will represent the Bhutanese people at the forefront, the entire nation is the tourism industry and every Bhutanese is a host. The minimum fee the country is asking the visitors to pay is to be reinvested in the people, the place of the meeting, which will be the Bhutanese people’s shared asset for generations.

Sustainable development policies

Bhutan recently announced that it would raise its Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) from $65 to $200 per person, per night, which will go toward projects that support Bhutan’s economic, social, environmental and cultural development.

The fees raised will fund national investment in programs that preserve Bhutan’s cultural traditions, as well as sustainability projects, infrastructure upgrades and opportunities for youth — as well as providing free healthcare and education for all.

For instance, some of the SDF goes toward offsetting the carbon footprint of visitors by planting trees, upskilling workers in the tourism sector, cleaning and maintaining trails, reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and electrifying Bhutan’s transportation sector, among other projects.

As a country that is vulnerable to the effects of climate change (experiencing melting glaciers, floods and unpredictable weather patterns), Bhutan will also be stepping up its efforts to maintain its status as one of only a handful of carbon-negative countries in the world — in 2021, Bhutan sequestered 9.4 million tons of carbon against its emission capacity of 3.8 million tons.

TCB Director General Dorji Dhradhul said that beyond protecting Bhutan’s natural environment, the SDF will also be directed toward activities that preserve Bhutan’s built and living cultural heritage, including architecture and traditional values, as well as meaningful environmental projects. “Our future requires us to protect our heritage, and to forge fresh pathways for forthcoming generations.”

Dorji Dhradhul said, “We need tourism to not only benefit Bhutan economically but socially as well while maintaining our low sustainable footprint.”

“The goal of our new strategy is to create high-value experiences for guests, in addition to well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens. This is our moment of evolution and we invite our guests to become our partners in this transformative moment,” he said.

In line with this, the government used the period during the COVID-19 shutdown to upgrade roads, trails, temples and monuments around the country, upgrade public bathroom facilities, organize rubbish clean-up events, and enhance the standards and certification process for tourism service providers (such as hotels, guides, tour operators and drivers). Employees across the tourism industry were required to participate in upskilling programs to focus on enhancing service quality.

Foreign Minister Dr. Tandi Dorji said, “We know that our new SDF brings with it a certain expectation when it comes to standards of quality and service, so we are committed to enhancing the guest experience — whether that is through the quality of services received, the cleanliness and accessibility of our infrastructure, by limiting the number of cars on our roads, or by limiting the number of people who visit our sacred sites.”

By doing so, he said, Bhutanese protect the experience for visitors to Bhutan, as the country must be able to provide authentic experiences supported by world-class services and personal care. “We also plan to work with our tourism partners to continue to upgrade the itineraries that guests can experience in our country — to help showcase the very best that Bhutan has to offer,” said Lyonpo.

The revamp of Bhutan’s tourism comes amid a widespread “transformation project” rolled out across the country, from the civil service to the financial sector. The changes are geared toward developing Bhutan’s human capital by equipping the population with more proficient skills, knowledge and experiences.