Home » Why a Bhutan-India Tourism Meeting Excited Entrepreneurs in Nepal

Why a Bhutan-India Tourism Meeting Excited Entrepreneurs in Nepal


Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was in India last month. He addressed the “captains of Indian industries” in Delhi on March 15, in an event organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

In the function, titled “India-Bhutan Tourism: Expanding Horizons,” an Indian industry leader raised the issue of not just Indo-Bhutan bilateral tourism collaboration but also the bright prospects for multilateral and regional tourism collaboration among the South Asian countries.

Dipak Deva, chair of the Tourism and Cultural Committee of FICCI, said, “I would also recommend countries in the region – Bhutan and Nepal, Sri Lanka and India – combine their beautiful tourism assets and promote them as a region, which will help bring in large share of world tourism market and help our economy grow both in terms of investment and employment.”

Tobgay took that proposal positively and promptly okayed the idea: “Mr. Deva has suggested we develop [tourism] packages of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Done. Done. Done.”

Tobgay was also positive on Deva’s suggestion to improve e-visa policies. The prime minister said work is underway to make on-arrival and online visa services tourist-friendly and India-friendly.

The Bhutanese prime minister’s enthusiasm for regional tourism connectivity had immediate impacts among Nepal’s tourism insiders.

Basudev Baral is a Nepali tourism entrepreneur from the town of Dharan, which is just a few hours’ drive away from Bhutan’s border with India. “If Bhutan gives greenlight for regional tourism packages, it means a lot for tourism entrepreneurs of BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) countries,” Baral, who has been to Bhutan for tourism activities, told me.

Baral said that multi-country packages would give a competitive edge to all tourism operators in the region, targeting both domestic and foreign audiences. Baral’s assessment was seconded by almost all tourism leaders and insiders in Nepal.

In the same event in Delhi, Deva raised other issues relating to foreign direct investment (FDI). “If Bhutan allows FDI in the tourism sector, it would ensure that we would have [a] large team of specialists on the ground that would be trained to deliver seamless, high quality experience towards our customers traveling through India and Bhutan,” Deva argued. “Sri Lanka is the good example. [You] don’t have to give 100 percent FDI; they give 40 percent FDI and they have seen the results immediately.”

Nepal, India, and Bhutan all feature landscapes in the Himalayan Mountains, which offer tourists similar and still unique features of Himalayan nature, culture, and adventure. A combined travel package offering access to all these countries could prove irresistible to world travelers.

However, according to the World Bank, “South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world.” Within South Asia, BBIN is also the least connected subregion. Despite being members of both the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), BBIN countries are yet to integrate whole-heartedly on the economic front.

Owing to connectivity barriers in the region, traveling from Kathmandu to Bangkok is easier than traveling from Kathmandu to Thimphu. A BBIN tourism corridor can help tackle these woes. The proposed tourism connectivity among the BBIN countries could thus be a great beginning for subregional connectivity – a win-win situation for all four countries.

For India, it can display New Delhi’s leadership in connecting regional countries in its vicinity.

For Bhutan, it can be an opportunity both for earning regional tourism revenues and also to show its carbon negative, environmentally conscious identity to the world. Likewise, it would be an enabler for its futuristic Gelephu Mindfulness City, which aims to be the regional economic and spiritual hub.

For Nepal and Bangladesh, offering regional tourist packages can help increase tourism footfalls, and thus revenues. A visitor to any BBIN country might choose to extend their visit to include other countries for a few days, resulting in the growth of tourism revenues.

A regional tourism agreement would have to overcome some of the issues that have plagued BBIN connectivity, including fears of potential security threats and national sensitivities. However, countries can cooperate on intelligence and information sharing to mitigate threats, and ultramodern technology and screening processes could be applied to deal with potential irritants. As the biggest country in the region, India can take the lead toward this end.

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