Trashigang, 27 September 2021: The Tourism Council of Bhutan launched the implementation of the new project, “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan”, today with the kick-off of a three-day inception workshop in Trashigang. The project launch happening on the World Tourism Day signifies the importance of rebuilding the tourism sector, a major contributor to the national revenue and source of employment, to help kickstart recovery and growth following the COVID-19 pandemic’s crippling, multidimensional socio-economic impact.
The USD 4.854 million ecotourism project will mainstream biodiversity conservation into the tourism development and position Bhutan as “a model ecotourism destination”. The project is timely and comes at a time when Bhutan rethinks tourism in the wake of COVID-19 and the tourism sector, hit hard by the pandemic, strives to make a comeback to rebuild lives and livelihoods through a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive tourism economy.
Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with technical support from UNDP, the project will be implemented as part of the Tourism Flagship Programme over a five-year period. It will cover two protected areas (PAs) of Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and five districts of Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse and Zhemgang. The project will focus on a end-to-end approach to tourism value chain development where partners will work together. Partners include WWF, Bhutan for Life, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, and other tourism stakeholders.
The project areas form the eastern and south-central parts of Bhutan and abound with astounding biodiversity and has immense untapped ecotourism potential. The landscape hosts some of the rare and endangered biodiversity species, such as red panda, black-necked crane, golden langur and golden mahseer. As a home to Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory, Bhutan’s national butterfly, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in Trashi Yangste, for instance, has a high potential for butterfly tourism. The project landscape is a haven for special birds like Wards’s Trogon, Babblers and Pheasants and is already known for being a birding hotspot globally. However, human wildlife conflict remains a major concern in these areas. Ecotourism will be used as a tool for long-term conservation gains through the management of co-benefits and trade-offs.
The project is expected to bring about transformational changes in the rural development landscape. It will help diversify the agriculture dominant rural economy by promoting wildlife-based economy, boosting domestic tourism, creating employment opportunities and increasing community resilience and connection to nature. High value, end-to-end biodiversity products will be developed to deliver unique, authentic, and quality tourism.
Lhuentse Dzongda Jambay Wangchuk said the shift in tourism development focus from the west to east is a welcome change. “This will go a long way in enhancing the lives and livelihoods of people in the east. What is important is that the efforts of this project must continue well beyond the project period so that it becomes a truly inclusive and transformative effort,” Dzongda Jambay Wangchuk said.
The project will address barriers to establishing ecotourism through enabling national policy environment and institutional coordination, sustainable financing, innovation, and diversification of ecotourism products.
The Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dorji Dhradhul saidthis year’s World Tourism Day's theme, "Tourism for Inclusive Growth” aligns with the ecotourism project. “Our project which is focused on eco-tourism is about "inclusive growth"-inclusive in terms of stakeholders- viz: human, wildlife, environment, and cultural landscapes as partners, and inclusive in terms of generations - the present and future generation.”
The GNHC representative said this project will drive a different type of local economy, one that is based on ecotourism and biodiversity products and designed to address human-wildlife conflict through enabling both visitors and hosts to understand, appreciate and support conservation of natural and cultural heritage amongst others.
The pandemic has impacted the tourism sector badly but at the same time it has presented an opportunity to reset tourism. As countries gear up to reopen and revive tourism, many are putting in place measures to build a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive tourism economy. This is exactly what this new project seeks to do in Bhutan. Inclusiveness remains at the heart of sustainable and resilient tourism sector. Recognizing this, the project will strive to engage local communities, including women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the sustainable production of tourism products and services and ensure its benefits are enjoyed widely and fairly by all of them.
UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said as a world leader in nature conservation and climate action, Bhutan can be “a pioneer in rebuilding tourism for the future”.
“Bhutan’s potential as a nature or eco-tourism destination has not been fully explored. In a world where solitude, pristine environment and clean air have become rare commodities, Bhutan must tap into its ecotourism potential. And this should be the centerpiece of tourism recovery from COVID-19, engaging communities as direct beneficiaries, and the TCB’s vision of Taking Tourism to the Top,” said Ms. Kubota.
At the inception workshop, the stakeholders will come together to understand the project and reaffirm the commitments to achieve the project results.