Abstract

This paper examines the unique tourism policies established by the Royal Government of Bhutan to control tourism in the country. The paper is conceptualized using the power relationship framework developed by Foucault and regionalization theory to analyze Bhutan’s tourism policy. The paper is based on interviews that were carried out with high-level tourism officials, local business owners and managers, international tourists, regional tourists, and domestic tourists (Buddhist pilgrims). The number of tourists to Bhutan has been controlled not by an annual visa quota, but by a daily minimum tariff, required guided tour, certain spatial restrictions, and the general perception of inconvenience associated with the process of getting a visa. The controlled tourism policy, however, is limited only to western tourists, which represent only a quarter of the tourists visiting the country. Although Bhutan has been able to minimize the environmental and cultural impacts of western tourists through its low-volume, high-yield tourism policy, this is more related to power and regional politics than simply a quest for sustainable tourism.

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Bhutan’s Low-volume, High-yield Tourism: The Influence of Power and Regionalism

This paper examines the unique tourism policies established by the Royal Government of Bhutan to control tourism in the country. The paper is conceptualized using the power relationship framework developed by Foucault and regionalization theory to analyze Bhutan’s tourism policy. The paper is based on interviews that were carried out with high-level tourism officials, local business owners and managers, international tourists, regional tourists, and domestic tourists (Buddhist pilgrims). The number of tourists to Bhutan has been controlled not by an annual visa quota, but by a daily minimum tariff, required guided tour, certain spatial restrictions, and the general perception of inconvenience associated with the process of getting a visa. The controlled tourism policy, however, is limited only to western tourists, which represent only a quarter of the tourists visiting the country. Although Bhutan has been able to minimize the environmental and cultural impacts of western tourists through its low-volume, high-yield tourism policy, this is more related to power and regional politics than simply a quest for sustainable tourism.