…𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑫𝒆𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝑻𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒎’𝒔 𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒐𝒗𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒂𝒄𝒉 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒎 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒎𝒐𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒏𝒆𝒆𝒅 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒑𝒐𝒍𝒊𝒄𝒚 𝒂𝒅𝒂𝒑𝒕𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏
By Sonam Deki
The Department of Tourism is actively exploring various avenues to boost tourism. While a Sustainable Development Fee is charged for every tourist, the department adopts a unique approach for social media influencers whom they deem capable of effectively promoting the kingdom. These influencers, known as Key Opinion Leaders, play a vital role in promoting Bhutan. In lieu of financial assistance, the Department of Tourism offers support by waiving the SDF, thus encouraging these influencers to showcase the beauty of Bhutan to their audiences.
From September 23, 2022 till now, the Department of Tourism has supported around 35 Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) visits. This number does not include journalists, travel writers, filming groups, etc.
This initiative has significantly increased awareness of Bhutan as a travel destination among high-end audiences and avid travelers. Key Opinion Leaders have also played a crucial role in showcasing Bhutan’s unique culture, landscapes, and experiences. Moreover, since the reopening of tourism in Bhutan on September 23, 2022, till September 21, 2023, Bhutan received a total of 83,599 tourists, out of which 57,707 were Indian and 25,892 were tourists other than Indian.
The Department of Tourism collaborates with travel trade partners and influencers in key markets to raise awareness of Bhutan as a destination among their target audiences. Their aim is to establish Bhutan as a destination for everyone, a place you don’t only visit once as a ‘bucket list destination’, but as a must-visit destination and experience.
Additionally, influencer partnerships can foster authentic, engaging content, driving destination interest and stimulating economic growth while promoting responsible and conscious travel.
Influencer marketing is an important and cost-effective marketing strategy for Bhutan. “In our guest feedback survey, almost 20% of people have said that social media influenced their visit to the kingdom,” said the Department of Tourism.
The Department of Tourism has developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for influencers. This ensures that Bhutan partners with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) whose brand and objectives resonate with their values and vision. The DoT said, “We receive dozens of collaboration requests from influencers and KOLs every week, however, we only work with a small percentage of the ones who match our goals and are in line with Bhutan’s ethos.”
Tashi, a tour operator said, “We could utilize social media influencers and opinion leaders to promote Bhutan, but I perceive this as a somewhat desperate move by the Department of Tourism (DoT). The fundamental issue lies in the policy. The policy needs to be reexamined and refined to promote the tourism industry.”
“Many guides and tour operators have contacts with their clients, and through these contacts, we can rely on referral marketing to attract more tourists and maintain a high tourist influx if numbers are what we are aiming for. This can be easily achieved. Furthermore, as operators, we handle our marketing since it’s our business. But now, we wonder what’s in it for us? In the past, many of us marketed but today, DoT has taken over that responsibility, so we’re curious to see the impact it will have,” he added.
“If the DoT is resorting to this type of marketing to enhance the visibility of Bhutan, it will take a considerable amount of time and resources to achieve any significant results. Moreover, Bhutan is no longer in the 1970s when it was isolated and known to only a few. Things have evolved over the decades, and we need to present it differently to today’s tourists,” said another tour operator.
The Department of Tourism collaborates with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and domestic trade partners to promote and boost the visibility of Bhutan in the world tourism market. To support these KOLs in their promotional activities, they offer various incentives which include, but are not limited to, waiving the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). Sometimes they also help them to plan their itineraries and to meet different people aligned with their objectives and storytelling while they are in the kingdom.
Bhutan is renowned for its unique heritage, values, and commitment to sustainability. To further promote its distinctive charm, they carefully select and collaborate exclusively with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) who genuinely resonate with Bhutan’s ethos. They closely work with media and travel partners and engage influencers and KOLs who share Bhutan’s vision for sustainable and responsible tourism. While the sheer number of followers an influencer possesses can be impressive, they prioritize engagement rates and the quality of interactions they foster. “They must also be the kinds of KOLs who have the potential to increase visitor footfall – meaning that we look at the profile and demographics of their followers. A dedicated, engaged audience creates a ripple effect, leading to a more profound and lasting impact.
Furthermore, content quality is paramount; we seek influencers who produce insightful, authentic, and compelling narratives. In this endeavor, our mission is to form partnerships that honor and elevate Bhutan’s unparalleled legacy and vision,” said DoT.
In a recent instance, visitors like Ilario Lavarra and Elena Axinte were welcomed to Bhutan. Their visit was made possible through the invitation extended by Dharma Adventures Bhutan Travel Agency, facilitated in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, Bhutan. As a gesture of support for their local partner, the Department of Tourism facilitated the waiving of their Sustainable Development Fee (SDF).
Upon being approached by the travelers, they expressed their willingness to promote Bhutan on social media platforms in exchange for the SDF waiver. Carrissa Nimah, a representative from the Department of Tourism, explained, “We thoroughly examined their social media profiles and recognized their substantial following. Acknowledging their potential to effectively promote Bhutan, we granted them the SDF waiver in exchange for their commitment to showcase the beauty of Bhutan to their followers.”