Reality check | Kuensel online
Expectations are high, with Bhutan announcing the opening of its borders and a revamped tourism sector, including the sustainability tax of USD 200 per person per day.
Few people, except those in tourism and related businesses, complain about the tariffs. This increased the expectation of visitors. They sense there is something special, something upscale to experience in the Little Hermit Kingdom, as many call us.
With less than two months to reopen our borders to tourists, there is so much to do to live up to expectations and not let the decision turn against us. What boasts on paper and what happens on the ground does not match up to this day. Those returning home and the few visitors are already complaining about the services at the airport. It’s bad.
For many, the Bhutanese experience begins at the airport. Physically, Paro International Airport wears a new look. The airport has been transformed into a national aviation facility with a unique identity. The airport is an introduction to the country. Paintings, photographs, shops, new furniture and the corner where visitors can experience Bhutan by painting traditional mounted masks, postcards and canvases as well as personal stamps offer visitors a whole new experience upon arrival. or while awaiting their departure.
However, it is the time, confusion and bureaucratic procedures to get to the salon and relax or get rid of jet lag that many are not happy with. In view of the few complaints received by the authorities, airport services are still disorganized. From not maintaining physical distancing while waiting for serve, to having to run to exchange a few hundred ngultrums, and not arranging the testing and teeing facility, visitors are skeptical about whether the high-end or high-value ambitions could be satisfied.
After all the hype and the risks we’re willing to take, the high value, low volume policy shouldn’t backfire. It will be an annoyance. If the intention is to let the benefits of tourism benefit all Bhutanese, we must improve our services.
The reality on the ground is a little different. Visitors complain about problems that we can solve with or without a lot of investment. If tourists concerned about the risk of Covid-19 have to fight through crowds to do their paperwork at the airport, it would be the first and last impression of their trip to Bhutan. If they have to remember the driver’s name and license number, run from counter to counter to change $10 to pay the test fee, they’ll regret coming.
If they can get out of the airport with a little patience, that shouldn’t be tested by the pothole-laden roads or the lack of decent toilets on the way to Thimphu or Punakha. After years of talking about investing in infrastructure, what we have, for example between Paro and Thimphu, is a toilet that was built by a non-profit organization.
Arriving in the capital is a disaster. There are dogs barking or fighting to keep a tourist awake all night after a tiring trip on bad roads. There will be a few who appreciate the difference, but many will complain about not having basic infrastructure in place. Some guides say they have to drive tourists at the hotel just to use the bathroom because the public toilets are in a terrible state.
There is still time and there are initiatives. Improving the trail leading to Taktsang Monastery, building toilets and improving hygiene are some of the initiatives. It might help even if they are considered basic amenities in countries that don’t charge tourists anything to visit their country.
If we want to live up to expectations, there is a lot to do. Hurry up.