The number of international tourism arrivals in Bhutan has steadily increased since the early 2000s but only 50,000 international tourists visited Bhutan in 2013. (RA Online Bhutan). This is a surprisingly low number given the country’s rich culture, picturesque landscapes, and location between the two largest countries in the world, India and China. The low number of arrivals is in part a result of the country’s policy of low impact-high value tourism, which caps the number of annual arrivals and sets a minimum daily spend for international tourists. This policy attracts a more valuable, high-end traveler than nearby Nepal, for instance, which is viewed as a more budget destination that attracts backpackers and adventurers. The low impact-high value tourism policy aligns with the commitment to cultural heritage preservation that underpins much of Bhutan’s public policy.
Bhutan has an ambitious program in place to index, monitor, and preserve culturally significant structures and monuments. In an effort to extend those protections to villages and cultural sites, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs has drafted a piece of legislation called the Heritage Sites Bill. The bill, which will go before parliament in the fall, will create a process for designating nationally significant cultural sites and create a series of protections for these sites.
To support the implementation of the Heritage Sites Bill, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Department of Conservation of Heritages Sites, in partnership with the World Bank, has contract Solimar to help develop a methodology for identifying and prioritize potential cultural sites, and for developing economic models that support villages that take on the Cultural Site designation. Our methodology for identifying and prioritizing potential cultural sites is includes:
• An analysis and mapping of existing geographic and demographic data from the Gross National Happiness Commission and other sources.
• A series of workshops with members of the Royal Government of Bhutan, private sector representatives from the country’s major industries, and leaders of development NGOs and conservation groups.
• A survey of the elected representatives of the country’s 5,000 villages, conducted via mobile phone.
As a result of this intervention, Solimar will provide recommendations for the criteria for selecting cultural sites for preservation, a prioritized list of potential cultural sites that meet those criteria, economic models to support newly designated cultural sites.
One of these economic development models will be tourism promotion to newly designated cultural sites, which will leverage tourism revenues to directly support cultural heritage preservation in traditional villages across the country.