Bhutan is not an ordinary place; it has several hidden gems known as lands of happiness. It stands as a tiny nation wedged between two giant countries: China and India. It is the only “Vajrayana” Buddhist nation in the Himalayan Mountain region, which supports the statement that “the Bhutan Himalayan was an isolated region, sparsely populated, with diverse tribes.”
Bhutan’s geopolitical context is unique, facing giant communist China to the north and the largest democratic nation, India, in the south. Bhutan is also distinctive from the rest of the countries in the Himalayas in that Buddhism touches every facet of Bhutanese lives.
Bhutan is the only nation in the South Asia region that has survived its hundred years of monarchy and sovereignty. The people of Bhutan love their king, a king who has served its nation tirelessly and selflessly. Without such benevolent and farsightedness of the Kings of Bhutan, Bhutan won’t be a thriving nation in Asia. Bhutan stands as a unique country in Asia, today!
Eager to explore this country soon? Let us hear more from the owner of the well known Tandin Bhutan Travels, Mr. Tandin Wangyal.
Please tell us about the company and the vision you had when you started Tandin Bhutan Travels in 2008.
Tandin Bhutan Travel is a registered and licensed tour company with the Tourism Council of Bhutan, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, since 2008. Tandin Bhutan Travel (TBT) is also a leading member of ABTO (Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators) since its establishment.
Of course, like everybody and as the saying goes, “survival of the fittest,” we all must do something to survive. So, tourism was not that easy, but considering the opportunity it created, it was lucrative, but of course, it truly also was demanding. But as the business grew and more opportunities came, I became a passionate entrepreneur. What started as breadwinning became my passion for life! But later, I became more passionate about the “travel business,” and I love traveling and adventure, and this was the perfect combination.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered and successes you had managing the company?
I opened Tandin Bhutan Travels with the fact that tourism is really popular here in Bhutan, but managing a business like this is not everyone’s cup of tea. It needs hard work, it needs connection, it needs overseas travel partners, good promotions and we have to pay agents’ commissions. Maybe anyone can start, but they may end up in a dormant stage. Until you have all the factors I mentioned, travel agencies will not work even in this country. Initially, I was not fully dedicated to running the business because I was involved in our projects. I was like a part timer until 2014. From 2015, I started giving 70% of my time, building good overseas connections, guests started to come then it became rewarding. With the proper team agreeing to the same vision, made things a lot better in 2015. I am very thankful that most of my clients/guests are from the Philippines, mostly young professionals and Filipinos working in Dubai. When it comes to tourism there are certain focus travel companies take into account. Some tourists want adventures (hiking, biking), some are cultural, some just want serenity like bird watching… various interests. I personally develop interest in conducting entrepreneur training as 50% of the time, my clients are also engaged in conducting training, like business training and public speaking in college campuses. In that way, the training platform was an added revenue to my company and pleasant credential in the marketplace. This also gave a good impact to other sectors and companies we worked with (hoteliers, agricultural sectors, handicrafts and all other activities providers we worked with.
What makes Bhutan unique from other Asian countries? Give us at least 3 “Must-visit” places in Bhutan?
Bhutan is known as a nation of “happiness” under the guidance of a benevolent monarch. With less population, things are under the best supervision of leaders. But it is popularly known for its “Gross National Happiness” in short (GNH), where it is not the GDP that counts but more of true contentment come from the immaterial concept of happiness.
The must-visit three places in Bhutan:
Tiger nest in Paro (it is popularly featured in the movie “Batman Return”)
Please share with us the company’s achievements.
On December 1, 2019, the prestigious college in Bhutan, the Royal Thimphu College, awarded Tandin Bhutan Travel, “Letter of Appreciation” for conducting the entrepreneurial training, workshops, and seminar on the campus. It is one of the outstanding contributions of Tandin Bhutan Travel for building the youth of the nation, “it is giving back to the society.” Simultaneously, on March 1, 2020, Tandin Bhutan Travel was awarded the “Most Promising Tour Operator in Bhutan” by Bhutan MICE & Luxury Travel Leadership Awards and the Global MICE & Luxury Travel (Congress & Awards). As a company, it is a great humbling experience for us.
The pandemic hit all the businesses we can imagine and tourism was on top of it. What were the challenges your business had to go through and what made you keep the agency?
Tourism is the biggest hard currency earner next to “hydro-power,” but has closed its entire border and travel and was featured in CNN as one of the best nations to vaccinate its whole citizen. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, has hit the global tourism market, and Bhutan is no exception. But it has to go with the huge sacrifices as tourism has come to a complete shutdown.
But thanks to the monarch, the tourism-related loan has been deferred till the following June 2022. The interest payment has been paid under the “Royal Kidu Fund.” The workers in the tourism industry have come under the protection of the “Royal Kidu Fund,” and support of USD 170 has been paid to all the recipients for monthly support.
As everyone waits for the world to freely open again, please give the tourists some hints to visit Bhutan.
We have to wait till the beginning of 2022. The possible opening of tourism in Bhutan will not be before that. I want to tell the enthusiastic visitors of Bhutan not to lose hope but keep updated with the news in Bhutan and get travel-related information from the tourism sector industry in Bhutan. Stay connected to travel partners in Bhutan.
I’ve heard that tourists keep coming back to Bhutan, what do you think Bhutan can offer differently after the pandemic?
I think tourists will always come back for the hot stone bath. It is a unique experience that anyone would do again. I have guests who enjoy bike riding, I personally organize that. Most clients come from a hectic schedule, arriving in Bhutan with almost complete serenity. Every place you go, you’ll find pure people, calmness and contentment. From the moment you land, you will sense a kind of peace. First, we don’t have much population, not much high-rise buildings, manageable traffic without any traffic lights visible. Imagine, until now, traffic is handled by a person using hand signs. The preservation of cultural identities is very high in Bhutan. The ethnicity, race, food, here in Bhutan we have preserved the ancient cultures and traditions that makes each country unique. You will see behind me, a structure which is 400-500 years old. It has its own uniqueness when it comes to its cultural selling points. I also believe Bhutan is uniquely gifted which also has got to do with good governance. The beloved monarch is still loved by the people and they are the ones who preserve this nation. With good governance, united leaders, the policies are connected which definitely helped tourism. There are lots of projects and investments, so when tourists come, they know their expectations of the country will surely be satisfied.
For tourists planning to visit Bhutan, how many days should they allocate for a good tour and how much that will cost?
A decent package of 6-7 days tour is beautiful, this way western part of the country will be uncovered quite amicably with a budget of $2000-$2500. This will include full board 3-star accommodation (3 meals a day), local transportation and several activities. The travel budget to Bhutan is quite high. We believe in “low volume – high value tourism”. You might be thinking now, what’s out there in Bhutan that I have to pay a chunk of money to see this country. The reason we kept this bar high, comparable to other bigger and well known countries surrounding Bhutan, the 4 fathers and the monarchs are very careful that Bhutan will not be swiped by the globalization impact that will bury our culture and tradition. They must make sure that we have real tourists coming who completely experience the true Bhutan culture and tradition. Our architectural designs are also preserved, allowing only up to maximum 7 story buildings.
Tourists here definitely feel safe, as any travel agency will assure that you are protected and secured. We treat our guests well, and treat them with importance. As of now, we already have some clients from Europe and USA expressing interest in travelling to Bhutan again. The Bhutan government is doing their best to get everyone vaccinated. I hope this happens soon so we can open tourism again sooner than early 2022.
Any advice or words of encouragement to all entrepreneurs, especially those in the travel business.
People will not stop traveling around the world, despite all the risks. It is inbuilt-human nature that the creator has created in human beings. People will travel. Travel business will open, but there will be new-normal in context, and who knows even better than before. Let us be optimistic here. As someone said, “there is no cost, dreaming big!”
Speaking with Mr Tandin, I am convinced of putting Bhutan on my travel bucket list. Please follow them on Facebook and connect with them for the latest travel updates. https://www.facebook.com/TandinBhutanTravel/