How politics is shaping tourism in Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet?
Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet bear some uncanny similarities. For instance, all three of them are landlocked, boast of majestic Himalayans, and are home to world’s devoted Buddhist population. Although these regions have their own distinguished history and culture, the primary reason travelers knit plans to travel here is the mountains. That is another common factor for you.
Despite the cultural and geographical parallels, if you look at these regions through political lenses, you will be amazed at the striking differences. While Nepal is a fresh republic, Bhutan has a popular kingship and Tibet is a controversial autonomous region under China. It is a no brainer that the political scenario of any country and the ruling party’s attitude towards tourism is a crucial factor behind the future of tourism in any country. Here, we will discuss how the political state of the respective region is shaping its tourism.
In 2017, Nepal saw a record 940,000 visitors, missing its premediated target of 1 million tourists by just 6%. It is indeed a period of optimism for Nepal, which is actively seeking to style itself on the world map as a tourist hotspot. For a country of 30 million people, bordered by powerful neighbors – India and China – the potentiality for tourism advancement is obvious.
However, flourishment of tourism has been largely marred by the country’s rapidly changing political scenario. In a period of 15 odd years, the country has endured a civil war, overthrown 250-year-old monarchy, and become a republic. The bands and political protests that inevitably took place all these years hit the tourism industry hard.
Nevertheless, the government has consistently tried to facilitate tourism in through various premediated policies and campaigns. For instance, it has organized successful year-long campaigns called Visit Nepal in 1998 and 2011. It is also gearing up for the third edition set to take place in 2020. Furthermore, construction of new regional airports like Siddhartha Gautam International Airport in Bhairahwa are also expected to act as a magnet. Nepal government’s liberal and encouraging moves to boost the role of private sector in tourism development is also highly commendable.
Bhutan’s tourism sector is considered one of the most exclusive travel destinations in the world. The country’s long-term strategy of controlled tourism with a focus on quality and sustainability has incredibly paid off. The kingdom drew mere 400 tourists when it opened its door to outsiders for the first time in 1974. About four decades later, the total has reached over 70,000 in 2017 alone.
The Royal Government of Bhutan adheres quite strongly to a policy of ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism which serves the objective of creating of exclusivity and high-yield for Bhutan. In contrary to the popular assumption, Bhutan is not a backpacker’s destination. Unlike Nepal, you can’t travel independently and climb mountains here. The country’s government has put in meticulous efforts into shaping its policy that translates to a pre-orchestrated and defined travel plan.
For instance, you must first apply for a visa through a government-approved tour operator. You have to pay a daily tariff ranging from $200-$250 at your tour company which will then finance services like food, accommodation, transportation, and a guide. There are several do’s and don’ts regarding travel etiquettes like no smoking, managing waste and so on that has made Bhutan a role model for sustainable tourism development.
For centuries, Tibet was an isolated, mystical enclave ruled by Tibetan Buddhist monks. However, the face of the region has changed drastically with the arrival of Chinese troops that entered in 1950.
The Chinese government has successfully woken up to the financial value of Tibetan culture, marketing a romanticized version of Tibet to the Chinese tourist market. For instance, during the first quarter of 2018 alone, Tibet welcomed 5.6 million tourists, up 38% from a year ago. The total revenue from tourism also grew by 41.4% to 7.1 billion yuan (about 1.1 billion U.S dollars).
The launch in recent years of regular flights, as well as the building of a high-tech train service from Qinghai province to Tibet – the first ever rail link between the area and rest of China – has witnessed tourists arrive in flocks to the cities where, historically, neither Chinese nor foreigners dared to enter.
Thus, it is safe to say that the Chinese government is investing eagerly and heavily promoting tourism as a pillar of Tibetan economy. While domestic tourists are arriving in great numbers, foreign tourists still face some levels of restriction while travelling to Tibet. For instance, there are no direct or convenient flights to Tibet, tourists can’t travel independently, and have to be on their toes to not violate any rule of the region.