Bhutan Wants U.S. Agents' Attention

Travel agents who have been in the game for years may think they have the world mastered, but according to the Tourism Council of Bhutan, "I bet they've never seen us."

Travel Agent met with Kesang Wangdi, director general for the Tourism Council of Bhutan, and Chhimmy Pem, head of marketing and promotion, on the council's first promotional U.S. tour. The team was just in from Los Angeles, where it held a highly successful event for the West Coast tourism industry. Tonight, December 8, Travel Agent will attend the East Coast function at New York City's Explorers Club.

Here's why you need to know Bhutan:

The government of the recently democratic country has picked up tourism as a source of revenue and is eager to work strictly with the travel agent community. "This is not a destination a traveler can book through Expedia and we rely on tour operators and agents," said Paul Cohen, president of PartnerConcepts, which represents Bhutan.

Smack between India and China, Bhutan is easy to get to, with daily flights from Bangkok, and multiple flights a week from Delhi. The country expects to be serviced from either Hong Kong or Singapore in early to mid 2011, as well.

The country has a wide range of properties, ranging from three-star properties to luxury resorts from high end companies like Taj Hotels and Amanresorts. The government is in the process of looking to foreign investments to open up more luxury properties over the next few years, offering incentives to investors like free land and tax breaks as well as 30-year leases.

This year an expected 28,000 international visitors will touch Bhutan, 20 percent hailing from the United States, which makes this market very important for the country and one that agents can quickly capitalize on.

The main selling points of Bhutan are its diverse culture, including Buddhist traditions, monasteries, sculptures and local crafts, its natural environment, 72 percent of which is covered by forests, which facilitates trekking, biking, boating and hiking, and its holistic potential. For centuries Bhutan has been a center for spiritual healing and the spa market is expected to explode as more and more luxury properties debut.

Still in its infancy, the tourism department is making huge strides to catch up to other exotic destinations. The national airline, Drukair, has recently added online booking capabilities and the country is equipped with credit card capabilities. Bhutan will also debut two new airports for domestic arrivals in mid 2011.

The Tourism Council will be unveiling a new tourism campaign exclusively to the trade industry following the USTOA conference this weekend in New Orleans.

Stay tuned — as Travel Agent will be on hand at the event — and visit


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