30 participants including economic development officers (EDOs) from dzongkhag, planning officers, environment officers, gewog administrative officers and forestry officers from all over the country attended a training workshop on the development of ecotourism products organized by the Bhutan Tourism Council which started on July 5th in Bumthang.
The 4-day workshop aims to build the capacity of stakeholders inside and outside the project landscape and provide a knowledge and experience sharing platform for project coordinators in the districts landscapes and beyond. The workshop also prioritizes awareness and helps develop a common understanding of the project’s mandatory requirements during the implementation phase.
During the workshop, participants were updated on the GEF7 ecotourism project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation in the Tourism Sector in Bhutan”. The participants were led to differentiate between ecotourism, nature tourism and wildlife tourism. They were also sensitized on environmental and social safeguards, the selection process and management plan and relevant topics related to ecotourism entrepreneurship and product development.
Participants from different dzongkhags presented their business and product ideas and shared their views on the potential of ecotourism in their respective districts.
“I see the ecotourism project as a very potential business for the improvement of tourism in Lhuentse, because our dzongkhag gives priority to domestic and international tourists. So even during the Covid-19 pandemic, our dzongkhag did not have not been badly affected as we have constantly received domestic tourists who are helping to maintain the livelihoods of our community,” said Lhuentse ODE Tshewang Zangmo.
She added that as the Singye Dzong eco-trail and the Ludlow butterfly trail are well known to the people, the intervention of the GEF7 ecotourism project in these sites would further enhance the livelihoods of the local people residing in near these sites.
Lhuentse has many potential tourist attractions like Takila Guru Statue, Khoma Kishuthara, Gangzur Earthern Pottery, Singye Dzong trek, Rinchen Bumpa, Jigme Namgyal Muesum and Dungkar Naktshang, Phuningla trail in Aja, Rodungla trek. Singye Dzong trek and Phuningla trails in Aja are some of the important ecotourism products of the project.
Samdrup Jongkhar’s EDO, Sonam Wangchuk, said that although the district is not part of the project landscape and the tourism policy is limited only to the municipality, the ecotourism project will definitely benefit dzongkhag in the long run. The project provides funds and supports feasibility studies of potential tourism products in the district. He pointed out that Samdrup Jongkhar district has valuable tourist attractions like Narphung-Samdrup Jongkhar bird watching, Kalingtsho trek, Chokyi Gyatsho Institute (Dzongsar Shedra), Shiv-Mandir in Jomotsangkha and exclusive trekking route saline from Samdrup Jongkhar to Trashigang.
Bumthang EDO, Pema Tshomo, said she was now convinced of the essence of ecotourism after attending the workshop. She points out: “Ecotourism can be an important driver for improving livelihoods and conserving the environment in which we live. While protecting nature is at the heart of ecotourism, it also offers visitors a way to immerse themselves in nature’s bounty and create meaningful experiences. ”
She added that the most important thing she has learned is that when communities are seen as important stakeholders in ecotourism and engaged in the development process, the management and sustainability of these projects is ensured throughout. long.
“As part of the tourism flagship support, the Pema Gatshel district has revived the ancient eastern trade route, commonly known as the salt route. This trekking product is called Lotus valley trekking and travel. This 3-day trek is developed around 11 kilometers of walking and resting by road, with opportunities for biodiversity exploration such as bird watching, camping and visiting Ney (holy places),” said said Pema Gatshel’s ODE, Nima Zangmo.
She added that the district also has other attractions like local festivals, unique textile (traditional cotton weaving of Kamthagma), arts and crafts (Khar Dung Jaling) and religious sites of Yongla Goenpa, Dungkhar Goenpa, Thongphu Goenpa and more.
According to EDO Trashi Yangtse, Chimi Yudon, Trashi Yangtse is already popular for domestic tourism with a national landmark like Chorten Kora, and many revered sacred sites like Omba Ney, Rigsum Gonpa, Shero Dzong and Dechenphodrang. The district, she said, has huge potential as an ecotourism destination with attractions including the Black-necked Cranes, Bhutan’s Glory of Ludlow, Boomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ramsar Site.
During the workshop, a presentation was also made on birdwatching in ecotourism by Dr. Sherub, an ornithologist from the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research (UWICER). He said that with 761 bird species recorded in Bhutan so far, there is huge potential for bird tourism in the country.
The most commonly accepted definition of ecotourism was established by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990 as responsible travel to natural areas that preserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. However, ecotourism in Bhutan is defined as “high value, low impact travel that supports the protection of cultural and natural heritage; provides positive and enriching experiences for visitors and guests; ensures tangible benefits to local people and contributes to the pillars of Gross National Happiness. »
“Promoting high value with low impact not only in terms of revenue generation, but also excellence in standards and services and in delivering unique and authentic experiences. Low impact by minimizing negative socio-cultural and environmental impacts,” said one of the resource persons, Tshering Pem from the Nature Conservation Division of the Department of Forestry and Parks Service.
According to GEF7 Ecotourism Project Technical Specialist, Jigme Dorji, Bhutan has remained unexplored in terms of providing ecological services to tourists.
“There are many opportunities that mainstreaming biodiversity into the tourism sector will contribute to the diversification of high-end tourism products in the country. Ecotourism can be a very effective tool to bring about regional distribution of tourists and improve income opportunities for local communities,” he said.
The trainers and resource persons for the workshop were drawn from UNDP Bhutan, Nature Conservation Division, Ministry of Labor Human Resources and the Project Management Unit under Bhutan Tourism Board.
The Bhutan Tourism Board launched the GEF7 Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” in September last year. This ecotourism project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the UNDP office in Bhutan. The project is expected to bring about transformational changes in the rural development landscape. It is expected to diversify the agricultural-dominated rural economy by promoting a wildlife-based economy, boosting domestic tourism, creating employment opportunities, and strengthening community resilience and their connection to nature.
This series is sponsored by the GEF-UNDP funded Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation in the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” through the Bhutan Tourism Board, RGoB.