TRADITIONALLY popular with Western and Japanese markets, Bhutan is now seeing more tourists from Asia, but there are not enough air links to keep up with the growing demand.
Stanley Thong, executive director, Bhutan Stainless Travels, said: “Asian markets are warming up to Bhutan.
“Before, the Chinese did not quite understand what Bhutan could offer but they are coming around because of better visa systems.”
Thong said his company is keen to tie up with travel agencies in Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou. “For next year, I expect about 30 per cent growth in the number of Chinese arrivals.”
Long Hongbing, manager at Sichuan Comfort International Travel Service, said he is seeing a lot of interest in Bhutan from his Chinese customers, who are now seeking new destinations after having been to Europe and South-east Asia.
Route capacity, however, is an issue. “There simply aren’t enough seats,” he remarked.
Pema Choki, deputy marketing manager, Bhutan Airlines, likewise, shared that the airline launched its first international flights to Bangkok last year to meet the rising Asian interest in Bhutan.
“Our Bangkok-Kathmandu-Bhutan routing allows tourists to explore Kathmandu on the way,” said Pema, who added that Bhutan Airlines is mulling another international route to Singapore.
Meanwhile, Bhutan is still suffering from a room crunch and a shortage of Mandarin-speaking tour guides.
Said Kencho Owang, executive director of Thimphu-based Owang Travels: “Bhutan is sending students to China to learn Mandarin and increase the number tour guides and service staff. In another two to three years it should no longer be a problem.”
Bhutan will launch Visit Bhutan Year 2015, a campaign coinciding with the former king’s 60th birthday next year.
Announced on November 11 this year, Bhutan Tourism has invited tour operators to design their best products, while plans for fam trips and discounts for visas and hotels are still in the works, said Bhutanese exhibitors at China International Travel Mart.