Celebrating 50 years of tourism in Bhutan: A journey of cultural and natural heritage

Bhutan tourism Credit: Marcus Westberg
Bhutan tourism Credit: Marcus Westberg

Reflecting on Bhutan’s transformation from its first tourists to a globally admired destination

This month marks the golden jubilee since Bhutan opened its doors to the world in 1974 and the Department of Tourism in Bhutan is honouring the milestone by commemorating 50 years since the kingdom first opened its doors to international visitors. This celebration highlights the country’s journey from welcoming its first tourists to becoming a globally admired destination renowned for its natural beauty, rich culture, spiritual offerings, and the genuine hospitality of its people.

Six months of jubilee celebrations started with a blessing ceremony at the Kuensel Phodrang (Buddha Dordenma statue) in Thimphu this month. Government officials, tourism industry stakeholders, and international guests who have witnessed Bhutan’s transformation over the decades attended the ceremony. Bhutan’s Minister of Tourism addressed the gathering, emphasising the nation’s commitment to preserving its unique cultural and natural heritage while adapting to the modern demands of global tourism.

Other jubilee events include Bhutan’s first-ever tourism awards in August, a TEDx Talk featuring Bhutanese speakers on tourism and sustainability, a jewellery collection and fashion show, and global embassy events to promote Bhutan’s tourism journey.

The start of Bhutan’s tourism

Bhutan’s tourism journey began in 1974 when it welcomed a small group of international visitors. This was a pivotal moment for the country, which had remained largely isolated from the rest of the world. The government adopted a cautious approach, introducing a “high value, low impact” tourism policy aimed at attracting discerning travellers who would appreciate and respect the nation’s traditions and environment.

Over the years, Bhutan has become synonymous with sustainable tourism. The country’s commitment to environmental conservation and cultural preservation has set it apart from many other destinations. A daily tariff on tourists, which includes accommodation, meals, a guide, and transportation, ensures that tourism benefits the local economy while minimising its environmental impact. This approach was acknowledged and celebrated in the 2023 Luxury Travel Gold List Award, in which The Department of Tourism – Bhutan won an award for Sustainability Initiative by a Destination / Tourism Region.

Natural beauty

Bhutan’s natural beauty has always been one of its primary attractions. From the towering peaks of the Himalayas to the lush valleys and pristine forests, the landscape offers a serene retreat for those seeking tranquillity and adventure. Treks to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, visits to ancient fortresses, and journeys through unspoiled wilderness areas give visitors a glimpse of Bhutan’s untouched splendour.

Culture & spirituality

Another significant draw is the country’s rich cultural heritage. Bhutan’s festivals, such as the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus, showcase vibrant dances, elaborate costumes, and centuries-old traditions that thrive in modern times. These events allow tourists to engage with local communities and experience the spirituality that permeates Bhutanese life.

Besides its natural and cultural attractions, Bhutan is known for its spiritual offerings. The kingdom is dotted with monasteries, temples, and meditation centres that attract those seeking spiritual growth and enlightenment. The peaceful ambience and the teachings of Buddhism offer a transformative experience for many visitors.

The people

The genuine hospitality of the Bhutanese people has also played a crucial role in the country’s appeal. Tourists often speak of the warm welcome they receive and the sense of community that characterises Bhutanese society. This hospitality and the nation’s efforts to maintain its cultural integrity have left a lasting impression on visitors.

As Bhutan reflects on 50 years of tourism, it remains committed to sustainable development and cultural preservation principles. The anniversary celebrations serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting the natural and cultural treasures that make Bhutan unique. Looking to the future, Bhutan aims to continue attracting visitors who value its heritage and contribute to its sustainable growth.

Bhutan will celebrate its golden jubilee of tourism until December 17, 2024.

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