Ask Sally: No reply from the King of Bhutan

Taste for Travel’s agony aunt Sally Slaughter answers queries on travel etiquette, ethics and dilemmas in her column Ask Sally. Bad advice. Good laughs. Inquiries: info@tastefortravel.com.au

Dear Sally, Friends and I would like to visit Bhutan. We wrote a number of emails to His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck kindly requesting how the Court intends to invest all the incomes from tourist activity in their goal to improve the kingdom’s population lifestyle. I believe we also briefly mentioned the discrepancy between the overage population yearly income and lifestyle, compared to the kingdom’s and its net income from tourism industry and all related fields.  So far we have received no reply and unfortunately this is the main reason which is delaying our trip, since we do not intend to perpetrate the exploitation of humble and devoted country men and women in favor of a kingdom which consider itself so open to reforms and to the usage of modern media but doesn’t use them when kindly asked to do so. What are your thoughts related to this subject? Kindest regards, Rosy Jutern

Dear Rosy,
The Kingdom of Bhutan has a slogan for tourism: Discover the country that follows the principle of gross national happiness. This means, roughly that Bhutan places the interests of the common people at the center of development. It is not about exploitation but of contribution to the society and the people. Bhutan has only accepted foreign visitors since 1974, and mindful of its fragile environment, and limited infrastructure, it accepts only a lucky few thousand each year. The population is only 699,000. The GDP, according to 2002 figures from the Public Administration Country Profile was only $US594 million. Major sources of income for the kingdom are agriculture, tourism and exporting hydroelectric power.  GDP per capita in 2010 was only  $US2,042, according to the latest figures from the International Monetary Fund. Yikes!

Well, enough of the statistics. They do my head in. I can only say, Rosy, that it appears that Bhutan, a poor Buddhist country, which also relies on development aid from India, puts tourism money back into the nation on the principle of its gross national happiness. It needs a bit more Gross Domestic Product, if you ask me. Only 50,000 people, or 7.1 per cent, have access to the internet. His Majesty may not know how to use email. I just checked – he’s not even on Twitter or Facebook! But he’s aged only 31, so he must be computer literate. He may be too busy to reply, as he’s getting married in October to Jetsun Pema, the daughter of an airline pilot who has distant royal connections. If you do decide to visit, do it soon because from January 2012, a minimum tariff of $US250 per tourist per night will apply. As they say in Bhutan: tashi delek (good luck) and gong aa tsi phab nang (please reduce the cost a bit), because $US250 a night isn’t cheap. And I have no idea how much the royal wedding will cost. Oh dear – I foresee another email shortly. Or you could rock up to the royal palace and ask!
Graciously yours, Sally.

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