For the ideal

Despite minor differences, the National Assembly (NA) displayed solidarity as the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 was discussed. Outside the august hall too, apart from interest groups displaying their frustrations through social media, there has not been major opposition to the Bill. And one of the main reasons is that people are convinced that short term gains should be left aside for larger and long term benefits. Bhutan has come together and the people believe that Bhutan can be made like what Mark Twain, said about the Bermuda. “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”
The question if Bhutan is a high end destination or not is not new. In 2015, a debate on this very question sparked. Although governed by “high value, low volume” policy, tourism stakeholders said its just on paper and attributed it to rampant undercutting, poor marketing strategies and dearth of facilities. The lack of innovation and creativity, with almost all tour operators focused on cultural tourists was also mentioned. 
The dire need of a vision and strategy for the way forward, coordination among stakeholders, professionalism, lack of sustainable marketing strategies and a tourism master plan were identified as issues confronting the industry. That was seven years back, which means that we lost seven precious years doing almost nothing.
The die has been cast and there is no going back. Foreign Minister, Dr. Tandi Dorji, who is also Chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) said the TCB and government are ready. However, reforms are difficult and the kind planned now will definitely not be an easy ride. Resources of all kinds will be required beginning from finance to technical expertise.  Coordination between different stakeholders, including the people are important, too.
Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Lotay Tshering said it is not about making Bhutan high end for tourists only, but also for the people of Bhutan. This is something very special about the current reform. It does not mean that every Bhutanese can walk into a five star hotel and without a penny demand services. It means ensuring that Bhutanese avail opportunities to earn more and lead a decent life. It means confirming that Bhutanese have access to good infrastructure and facilities, just as tourists do.  
The policy further paves the path for balanced tourism, or in other words taking tourism beyond Bumthang. As new products need to be developed there are several products disappearing from the west but very much intact in eastern Bhutan – mostly the abstract ones like modesty, humility, old traditional ways of living – which are what most tourists hope to see and experience. Like expressed by those in the industry, Bhutan’s uniqueness is what brings tourists to Bhutan. And this lies unexplored in several corners of the country.
Desuup Sonam Dorji from Trashiyangtse yesterday narrated what his grandfather had told him. “We were involved in the construction of the Samdrup Jongkhar to Trashigang highway. We knew it will not benefit us, but we were sure that it will certainly benefit the future.” This reform will also not bring the genie out whose magical powers will do wonders. There will be costs involved; some will lose today. But as Sonam’s grandfather said, tomorrow, we all stand to win. Someone like Mark Twain would immortalize Bhutan saying, “if there is heaven, it is Bhutan.”