1. What new developments are there in Bhutan?
Bhutan is a country that enjoys developing at its own pace, ensuring the country retains its mystical and peaceful charm. This adds to the country's appeal as travelers are constantly looking for remote destinations as opposed to places that are overdeveloped.
With that said, there are some exciting things to look forward to in the coming 18 months, including some top luxury hotels opening up across the country. They will increase Bhutan's image, especially in the luxury travel sphere.
Another major development is the continued work on the road widening of the main west-east highway connecting all the major valleys. The road is completed from Paro-Thimphu-Punakha, and is set to be complete up to Gangtey by the end of 2017.
Finally, there will be the opening of Yongphulla Domestic Airport, one of only four airports in the country, located near the town of Trashigang in Trashigang District in the far east of the country. This will open up more of Bhutan to tourists.
And this September, you can celebrate the 200th anniversary of the bicycle with one of the most challenging bike races in the world in Bhutan. The 2017 Kingdom of Bhutan’s annual Tour of the Dragon starts in Bumthang (Saturday, September 2nd, 2017, 2:00 AM,), travels 268 km over four mountain passes and ends in the Thimphu town square. It is considered one of the toughest one-day mountain bike races in the world covering some extremely challenging and incredibly scenic roads.
With Bhutan’s breathtakingly beautiful high mountains, deep mystic valleys and pristine forests as the backdrop, this event is truly a biker’s paradise. In honor of this event, Gangtey Lodge has put together an exclusive package for guests competing in the race who are looking for last minute training and important body preparation. The luxury Gangtey lodge will provide meticulously thought out meals, challenging practice runs and targeted spa treatments to prepare you for the big day. I will be participating in this bike race with guests of the hotel.
The Gangtey Lodge
2. What is the biggest challenge for travel agents selling Bhutan? What advice would you give them?
One of the biggest challenges in selling Bhutan is getting the guest itinerary well balanced. Some agents try to cram in all five main valleys (Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang) in too short a time, sometimes offering only one night in a destination. To me this is a real shame as it really affects the guests' ability to enjoy the pace at which Bhutan should be enjoyed.
My main advice would be to never sell one-night stays anywhere and don't be afraid to sell only three valleys, spending two or three nights in each, ensuring that guests enjoy their time rather than spending half the time in their cars. In Gangtey, for example, I advise them to be creative with their itineraries and understand that there is plenty to do for three or four nights. Understand that travelers want to enjoy the wide-open spaces of Bhutan and the spirituality of the country, which is best enjoyed when not constantly travelling.
3. What do you wish travel agents better understood about Bhutan?
There are two things I wish were better understood: the weather and festivals. As with many countries in Asia, weather patterns often are grossly misunderstood; people's perception is often that it must be unbearably cold in the winter in the Himalayas and that the summer monsoon must be a wash-out. I wish people knew the reality that the winter (Dec.-Feb.) skies in Bhutan, like many other Himalayan countries, are the clearest blue you can imagine. Yes the temperatures are colder in the evening, but you would be wrapped up comfortably in a heated hotel, and you are blessed with blue-sky day after blue-sky day, where the temperatures often reach a very comfortable 65 degrees. Likewise, the word "monsoon" for the summer rains is an exaggeration. Yes, there is more rain, but it's not on monsoon levels; the UK receives more rain than Bhutan. There is also a benefit to the rain; it turns the already beautiful valleys into the most verdant and lush green. Another benefit to off-season travel is low-season rates and less crowds, a selling point for many travelers.
Another thing that should be better understood is the festivals in Bhutan. For some agents, this is the only time of year they promote travel to Bhutan. Yes, the festivals are a wonderful event to experience, but they do not define Bhutan, which is sometimes how they are sold. Other times of year should be equally promoted for other reasons, such as pristine Himalayan views, rhododendron season when the vast forests of Bhutan are awash with color, and lesser known festivals that still retain their charm and aren't overrun with tourists. I truly believe that every month is a wonderful month to travel to Bhutan, you just have to be in tune and in touch with what's happening in the country.