Sustainable tourism holds the key to tourism recovery

Published on : Tuesday, April 6, 2021

With the global travel and tourism sector continuing to combat the Covid-19 health crisis, it is important to look at the bigger picture.

The tourism industry was experiencing shifting winds even before the pandemic hit. Target 8.9 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to “devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism which creates jobs, and promotes local culture and products” by 2030.

SDG 12.B further stresses the importance to “develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts” for sustainable tourism.

The UNWTO narrative to restart tourism urges for responsible recovery of the sector, in keeping with the priorities outlined in the SDGs.

“Paradoxically, I tend to believe that Covid-19 has had a positive impact on sustainable tourism,” said Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of the Tourism Council of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

“We all know that pre-Covid, many destinations had started to face the pressure of mass tourism and over-tourism,” Dhradhul said. “Many tourist sites such as Boracay, Venice, Machu Picchu, Amsterdam, Iceland and the Galapagos Islands were working to restrict tourism because of the negative impact the high numbers of visitors were having on the local community. It was globally realized that, if tourism proceeded at this pace and in this style, the destruction of the destination, ecology, community, our economy and gradually our planet was inevitable,” he added.

Bhutan is a landlocked nation in the Eastern Himalayas, bordered by China to the north and India to the south. Having an area of 38,394 square kilometers, Bhutan has a population of more than 754,000.

Blessed with pristine forests, valleys and rivers, Bhutan aims to deliver an unforgettable experience for travelers. In 2019, Bhutan welcomed 316,000 tourists earning almost $120m in revenue from tourism, accounting for 4.7 per cent of its gross national product.

“I like to define sustainable tourism with a quote from my colleague Damcho Rinzin,” said Dhradhul. “All in all, tourism must continue to serve Bhutan, rather than Bhutan serving tourism. This means tourism should not and cannot go overboard for economic gains, which would undermine the broader interest of a country.”

“Tourism plays a very important role in the promotion of the GNH of the country, through the generation of employment and revenue, conservation and protection of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture,” explained Dhradhul.

The Tourism Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2020 aims to make Bhutan a green, sustainable, inclusive, viable and high-value tourist destination. Key initiatives under the policy include:

• Licensed professional tour guides
• Designated campsite and certified tourist accommodations
• Carbon neutrality and tree planting
• Ban on single-use plastic bags
• Green taxes on conventional vehicles and no taxes on electric ones
• Distribution of free electricity in the rural community
• Minimum daily package rates for all tourists

Dhradhul stressed the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has made it loud and clear that the tourism industry must be more resilient and sustainable in the face of future health and climate crises.

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