Bhutan is trying to attract more Indian holidaymakers through a new tourism policy in an effort to ensure higher capacity utilisation. This is expected to benefit Indian tour operators as well.

P Tenzing, chairman-economic affairs committee of National Council, Bhutan’s highest legislative body, said the initiative can greatly help the nation’s overall economy that is largely dependent on tourism.

Any increase in Bhutan-bound traffic means increased head count for tour operators in the entire eastern India, said S Sanyal, president of Eastern Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators Association. “This gives us an opportunity to design different, longer duration regional packages with Bhutan in them. Eventually those will increase our business in rupee terms too,” he said.

However, Sanyal said there is a major bottleneck in Bhutan’s capacity utilisation.

Foreign tourists, except those from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, are required to pay a fixed minimum daily tariff of $250 per day during the peak season and $200 during the lean season to cover government royalty, food, stay, etc.

Almost every tourist from western countries demands three-star or five-star category lodging to ensure better value for the fixed amount payment. “That makes all star category set-ups crowded but leaves budget level facilities underutilised. As a very appreciable initiative, Bhutan is now looking towards increased number of Indian budget tourists to plug up this gap,” said Sanyal.

Bhutan is encouraging tour operators to get more and more Indian tourists, he said. “In addition, it is making its own presence felt in a big way in Indian tourism fairs and festivals. Naturally, the flow of Indian tourists towards Bhutan is bound to climb up,” he said.

According to T Thondup, a tour operator from Bhutan, almost all Indian visitors to Bhutan prefer visiting other eastern Himalayan Indian destinations such as Sikkim, Darjeeling and Dooars. “Moreover, a large section of Bhutan visitors go for the entire Buddhism circuit comprising Gaya or Sarnath in India,” he said.