Bhutan Extends Flight Network and Builds Roads

Alina Khorosheva, 01.04.2014 14:36
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In March of 2013 TRN magazine released an interview with a representative of Bhutan’s tourist office in Russia. This year we have had another meeting with the country’s tourism authorities in order to discuss the news of the year and to look at the progress the office has made on the Russian market. This time, at MITT-2014, TRN’s editor-in-chief had the opportunity to speak with Head of Planning and Projects Department of Bhutan’s Tourism Department Mr. Kinley Wangdi.

- Mr. Wangdi, what are the main results of the work Bhutan’s tourist office has done in Russia throughout 2013?

- We have always liked talking to the Russian mass media. Your country is very important for us. It represents a huge market that is still new and underexplored for Bhutan. We have our work cut out for us if we want to study it thoroughly and attract Russians to our country. For four years now we have been promoting our country on the Russian market – participating in exhibitions, working with mass media outlets and tour operators. And there are, indeed, tangible results.

In 2013 the country was visited by 385 Russians. This is merely 20 people more than during the previous year, in other words – a 6% increase. But, then again, for Bhutan, which has always remained an isolated country, this growth rate is commendable. Total foreign tourist flow has grown 10% – the country was visited by 116 thousand people from all over the world. The markets we are most interested in right now are India, China, the USA, Japan, the UK, and Germany.

- What would be the desirable Russian tourist flow for your country?

- We aim at achieving a 10-15% growth of the Russian tourist flow, which would mean 1,500-2,000 Russian arrivals a year.

- Did Bhutan introduce any new facilities that could interest tourists?

- First of all, we are hard at work building new roads that will connect interesting regions of our country and make them accessible not only to the locals, but to tourists as well. Another project that is underway is the interregional carriage service, whereby tourists would be able to quickly fly to the farthest removes of Bhutan from its capital city of Thimphu, which is where all international flights land. For this project we have opened domestic airports Samdrup Jongkhar and Paro, which had been out of commission before.

Another good piece of news is the launch of the flight program of a private Bhutanese airline Tashi Air along the route Paro – Bangkok. Before that flights had been provided exclusively by the airline Druk Air. Also, flights across Mumbai are to be launched shortly.

- Are you planning on extending your flight network to Europe?

- This is not one of our immediate concerns, at least not for the next few years. But, as the tourist flow grows, this flight network will no doubt become necessary. By the way, as of today, there is only one international airport in the country, but we have proposed an expansion project for the existing domestic airport in the center of the country. This will lend it international status, thus giving the country greater tourism capabilities.

- What can Bhutan’s hospitality industry offer tourists today?

- There are 127 hotels with the 3-5* rating in the country, which together offer about 2,700 rooms, not counting the accommodation in the local villages and guest houses.

About 50 hotels are being built right now. As many as 200 hotels are slated to be opened in the next 5 years, many of which are affiliated with famous brands.

We are also planning on building hotels in the eastern and southern parts of the country, where we will be actively developing the travel business industry. Right now we are in the middle of negotiations with large international hotel chains on the subject of building hotels in these parts of the country.

- What will be your main focus when promoting Bhutan in Russia?

First and foremost we will concentrate on drawing attention to our culture, religious traditions, national celebrations, which are held throughout the whole year, and also to the country’s rich nature. According to statistics, nearly 90% of tourists opt for educational tours to Bhutan. However, only 40% of tourists go straight to the country, while the others make it a part of their itinerary across other countries, such as Nepal, India, Tibet, Thailand and Myanmar.

Also, we will pay more attention to promoting the west and the center of Bhutan, which are less known among tourists. By the way, Russians are fond of visiting cities that are far removed from the capital; they also often travel to Phuntshohng.

- Are new tour operators interested in the destination?

- During the year we invited 25 new Russian tour operators to work with us. Today, we have firm business ties with travel companies Oriental Discovery and Mainland Travel Bureau (MTB).

- How much money is being allocated by the country’s government for promoting its tourism capabilities?

- On average – about 15-20 million dollars a year. Much more money is being spent on improving the infrastructure.



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