While the Covid-19 put a pause to tourism activities, it gave me some time to reflect and list down some of the contributions that I made towards eco-tourism, particularly the Community Based Tourism in Bhutan through 1997 till date. The following chronicles all bear testimony of my humble contributions.
Of course one of the main reasons for me to resign voluntarily in 2017 was to take forward the Community Based Tourism activities that I have initiated in Bhutan, and also to embark on other similar activities. During my erstwhile tenure with the Department of Forests and Parks Services from 1997 till October 2017, my main responsibility was to integrate biodiversity conservation with the development of the local communities, as we have lot of communities living inside the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Out of many interventions, eco-tourism vis-a’-vis Community-Based Tourism formulation was one of the major programs under it.
The approaches adopted for formulating a Community-Based Tourism Plan were participatory in nature with the active local community and local government participation. The agreed plan was then presented to larger stakeholders involving the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators. In the process, various donor agencies (UNDP, WWF, SDS, BTFEC, etc) were making a huge resource expense in coming up with plans, infrastructure, etc.
However, for the effective implementation of Community-Based Tourism, I learned that it all depended upon the tour operator(s) whether to take tourists to those Community Based Tourism sites. Of-course few tour operators were supportive of the ideas and were bringing in tourists to those sites. But I felt it was not sufficient and not covered well. While we may not be able to force tour operator(s) to include into their itineraries, I decided that I have to do something different. So it was in October 2017 that I decided to change my course of life to make a difference to the local communities’ livelihood.
Hopefully, I intend to help reduce income disparity and social inequality, curb rural-urban migration, shift demand towards more sustainable production and consumption, and help conserve local cultures and environments.
Following are some of my direct contributions to various Community-Based Tourism products in Bhutan.
- 1998 – Start of Pilot Community Based Tourism in Laya, Gasa (Jigme Dorji National Park)
- 1999 – Red-Panda Festival in Damji, Gasa (Jigme Dorji National Park).
- 1999- Focal Person from Jigme Dorji National Park during the development of eco-tourism management plan for Phobjikha (RSPN)
- 2000 – Incorporation of ecotourism and Community Based Tourism into existing Jhomolhari trek, Lingshi trek, Gasa Laya trek, and Snowman trek (Jigme Dorji National Park).
- 2002 – Matsutake Festival (Later became Mushroom Festival) at Ura, Bumthang Thrumshingla National Park.
- 2003 – Nabji Korphu Community Based Tourism, Trongsa in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
- 2004 – Adha-Rukha Community Based Tourism, Wangdue Phodrang in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
- 2005 – Community-Based Tourism in Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (Jonkhar, Saketeng, and Merak under Trashigang).
- 2006 – Community-Based Tourism in Royal Manas National Park (Gongphu, Pantang, Chennarzam, Panbang under Zhemgang).
- 2009 – Eco-tourism in Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bumthang (Nomads Festival involving highland communities of Laya, Lunana, Lingshi, Merak, and Saketeng)
- 2011 – Annual Takin Festival at Laya (Jigme Dorji National Park).
- 2012 – Eco-tourism through Natural Resource Management in The Highlands For Sustainable Livelihood and Green Economy at Sephu (Wangchuck Centennial Park).
- 2013 – Rhododendron Festival in Royal Botanical Park (Kawang, Toeb, Dagala geog).
- 2013 – Community-Based Tourism in Aja-Phuning-Dremesi, Mongar in Bumdilling Wildlife Sanctuary.
- 2013 – Feasibility studies and survey of creation of Recreational Park in Trashiyangtsi, Trashigang, and Wilderness Park in S/Jongkhar.
- 2014 – Set-up of Environmental Education Interpretation Centre at Royal Botanical Park (RBP), Lampelri.
- 2014 – Johomolhari Mountain Festival, Soe Yutey, and Yaksa (Community-based Snow leopard Conservation Project, Jigme Dorji National Park).
- 2016 – Eco-tourism in Kanchenjunga Landscape Management for Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (Chukha, Samtse, and Haa) and also involvement with Nepal and the Indian side of the Kanchenjunga.