Indian visitors lapping up birding & bike tours in Bhutan

Interview with Carissa Nimah, Chief Marketing Officer at Department of Tourism - Bhutan
/ New Delhi
Carissa Nimah- CMO Tourism Bhutan
Indian visitors lapping up birding & bike tours in Bhutan

Carissa Nimah, Chief Marketing Officer at Department of Tourism - Bhutan

Accounting for almost 50 pc of all tourist arrivals in Bhutan, Indian visitors remain strategic for the Dragon Kingdom which has set itself a target of doubling the number of Indian tourists in 2024. Carissa Nimah, Chief Marketing Officer at Department of Tourism - Bhutan tells India Outbound that Indian visitors are attracted to a wide variety of experiences in Bhutan ranging from motorcycle tours to birding and fishing.
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How was 2023 for Bhutan from the Indian market? And what are you planning to do this year? 

So 2023 was a very good year for Bhutan from the Indian market. So from January till December, we hit almost 105,000 tourists, out of which 70 pc were from India. So India remains our number one source market, followed closely by the United States and then by Europe and different other countries. So what we are planning this year is to further increase our tourism numbers to try and hit the same number as what we were at pre-pandemic. Obviously, India is going to play a very important role in that journey. 

So some of the things that we are doing, the prices for the airlines for SAARC nationals has recently come down on both the carriers, Druk Air and Bhutan Air. Now there’s a special SAARC national rate which is approximately half of what it was before and it is making travel and access to Bhutan much easier. 

Also what you can see here at OTM is that we have got about 16-17 industry partners, tour operators and hotels and they are very aggressively focused on the Indian market and they are coming up with special kind of package rates. Food, we know, is very important so I think the hotels are doing a lot of training to kind of cater to the Indian palette and so on.

What new offerings does Bhutan have for repeat visitors?

There a few things that are new. One, there is definitely been new products in terms of like the shopping experience. Bhutan is really focused on creating high-end arts and crafts, high-end handicrafts much more than ever before because Bhutan has uplifted itself a bit. Now there are new shops and new opportunities to purchase really, beautiful handmade products. And in terms of actual experiences, there are a few new tourism experiences that are really getting popular now with the Indians. One is motorbike trips around the country. I am a rider myself and I see a lot of Indians doing motorbike tours. And the reason why Bhutan is a good place to do motorbike trips is because of a few things. One, the roads are really safe. The speed limit is slow, on average it’s around 40 to 50 kmph and there are  not many cars so you have got the road to yourself and then there are beautiful vistas and winding mountain roads, which are very safe. That is why motorbike trips are becoming very popular. 

Bhutan birding tours

Bhutan has around 750 species of birds (Photo: Bhutan birding tours)

Two, there are new tourism experiences that we have introduced, such as fishing and birding. Bhutan has around 750 species of birds and there are a lot of birding groups that are coming in and when you drive around you actually see them and I would say more than 50 pc are Indian guests. They love going to Bhutan because Bhutan has so much greenery and so many species of birds and you can see them very easily. And the second product that is picking up is fishing. 

What is your target for India this year? 

The government has announced that it plans to attract 300,000 guess this year and 50 pc of which would be from India. So effectively, we are looking at doubling our Indian numbers this year. So it is a really ambitious target. 

What new sustainable practices are you implementing? 

We are re-certifying our hotels and as part of that there are sustainability requirements that are part of the checklists. For hotels that kind of get their certification, they need to put in a lot more effort when it comes to sustainability. The same for the tour operators. The association of Bhutanese tour operators is working with a UN-funded organisation called Sustour to basically come up with guidelines and recommendations with tour operators to run their tours more sustainably.

In terms of the domestic industry, we are going to be doing some industry awards this year, that recognise and celebrate hotels and tour operators and guides that focus more on sustainability. We are trying to drive the message to the industry that sustainability is very important and to work with them to embrace it and further develop it.

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