Bhutan: The costly 'Shangri-La'

Updated: 2011-09-06 11:58

By Adam Plowright (China Daily)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0
Bhutan: The costly 'Shangri-La'

In this photograph taken on Aug 19, the giant Buddha Dordenma statue, still under construction, overlooks Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The isolated kingdom is one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world and a haven for celebrities and the well-heeled. MANAN Vatsyayana / Agence France-Presse

THIMPHU, Bhutan - The isolated kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world and a haven for celebrities and the well-heeled. In 2012, it will become even more costly.

Foreign tourists are required to book through licensed tour operators, who charge a minimum high-season price of $200 per day for each person for an all-inclusive package including accommodation, food and transport.

The pristine Himalayan kingdom of snow-capped mountains and gushing mountain streams pursues a policy of "high-end, low-impact tourism", deliberately keeping out the hordes who might spoil its untouched environment.

From the start of 2012, the high-season daily fee will rise to $250 per day for each person, meaning a stay in one of the basic hotels as part of the package will cost a traveling couple at least $500 a night.

"It may not make economic sense now to be high end, but Bhutan will be preserved for future generations of visitors," said Kesang Wangdi, the director-general of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

"If we opened up, our revenue would go through the roof, but at what price? We restrain ourselves from going wantonly along the economic development path without considering the social impact and the environment."

Nevertheless, next year the council hopes to boost visitor numbers by more than 50 percent to 100,000 by offering new types of holidays and improving flight links to cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Bhutan famously follows an economic development doctrine known as "Gross National Happiness", which takes into account the mental well-being of its nearly 700,000 citizens instead of simply measuring financial gain.

The remote and reclusive country puts protecting the environment and preserving its unique culture at the heart of its policy decisions.

Citizens have to wear national dress when visiting government offices, and many choose to sport the elegant woven outfits in every-day life out of national pride.

Bhutan's decision to keep out the masses - backpackers looking for cheap holidays in the Himalayas head for neighboring Nepal - makes it an appealing destination for anyone wanting to get away from it all.

Hollywood stars Leonardo di Caprio and Keira Knightley are among those who have recently stayed at the ultra-high-end Uma Paro resort, one of a number of luxury hotels catering to wealthy travelers in the country.

Staying at a luxury hotel is an additional cost on top of the basic $200-a-day visiting package, meaning a night in an Uma Paro suite costs upward of $1,000.

Ravi Nischal of the Taj Group, the Indian-owned chain of luxury hotels with a property in Thimphu, said Bhutan has a "snob value" because not many people have been to the country and most can only dream of visiting.

"The destination has connotations of luxury," he said.

"There is also a lot of mysticism that surrounds Bhutan. It's known as the last Shangri-La," he added, referring to the Himalayan paradise described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton.

Agence France-Presse