Taylor & Francis Group

Ecotourism as a mechanism for sustainable development: the case of Bhutan

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Over the last few decades, Bhutan has followed a controlled tourism policy, with a 'high value, low volume' strategy. This approach is based on the country's sustainable development policy. In recent years, tourism has been identified as the backbone of private sector growth. To this end, a 'high value, low impact' strategy was adopted, which would allow for a doubling of the number of tourists in the next decade. Growing numbers of visitors could jeopardize the intended low impact on both nature and culture, which are the selling points of Bhutanese tourism. In this article, we examine the contribution of tourism to the sustainable development of Bhutan, focusing on the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of present-day tourism. Information was gathered by conducting field surveys in the tourist sector and in rural communities, and by analysing financial data relating to tourism. The results indicate that tourism has the potential to stimulate private sector growth by producing spin-off effects in the related service sector and to transform the rural economy. The impact on culture and the environment is currently low. However, the expected growth may, if it is not managed properly, erode the unique nature of tourism in Bhutan.

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