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FAM and press tours without SDF to promote Bhutan 

Dechen Dolkar 

The Department of Tourism (DoT) has introduced a familiarisation (FAM) tour for international travel agents who wish to sell and promote Bhutan as a destination with the objective of bringing more business to the country from June 1, this year.  

Similarly, DOT has also initiated press trips for the international press.

Those on the FAM and press tours will not have to pay the Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) provided they meet the requirements.  The department has developed a Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) outlining the rules and requirements for FAM and Press trips.

The department has received 490 applications for the FAM tour since June 1 and approved 58 percent of the total applications. 

According to the SOP, all hotels and tour operators in Bhutan can apply for a waiver for international travel agents. All FAM trips should be hosted or sponsored by a Bhutanese tour operator or hotel.  

Chief Marketing Officer of the department, Carissa Nimah, said that the tours are a crucial part of the marketing strategy. She said that without seeing the destination, travel agents do not have the courage to sell Bhutan. 

“We have to bring travel agents in the country so that they can feel it, see and educate them. After going back, they can sell the packages,” she said. 

As per the record of the department, since June 1, 120 people visited Bhutan on FAM tours. The figures are not included in the tourist arrival data. 

Carissa Nimah said that some FAM tours have visited in groups and while some visited through individual agents.

Currently, 42 agents from India are on FAM tours in the country.

Bhutan Frontline Travels and Alliance International Tours and Trek have organised the FAM tour for them.

Bhutan Frontline Travels’s Director for Operations, Bikash Dahal said that these agents will be seeing hotels and tourist destinations in the country so that they can promote Bhutan to their clients.

The group leader and the founder of the Jash holidays and memories, Rajesh V Vira said that he has been promoting Bhutan since 2006 and every year he used to send around 1,200 to 1,500 tourists to Bhutan.

He said that from January to June this year he sent 923 tourists, both Indians and international tourists. This year he committed to sending around 2,000 tourists.

“For the whole package, for a week, it cost around USD 1,700 to 1,800 per person,” he said.

The group leader acknowledges the services provided by the tourism sector. However, he said that there are some areas that need improvements especially the pothole-riddled roads.

He also said that flight connectivity should be available from different places like Mumbai and Chennai so that tourists do not have to wait for two to three days.   “The government could also provide more entertainment service options for tourists.”

The founder of Travel Duet from India, Pritish Shah said that with an upward travel trend within the Indian market, it is a standard practice for re-sellers to be invited to experience the destination. 

He said that for a destination like Bhutan, where India is a primary source market, it is imperative to experience it first-hand especially with the cultural nuances, the rebranding of the destination in 2022 and to understand the brand positioning that Bhutan stands for. 

“My trip to five valleys Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang helped me understand the differences between them and also understand the product-offering better. It has certainly helped us to choose the right experience for our guests post my visit,” he said.

The FAM tour is allowed for a maximum of seven nights for those travelling within the valleys of Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro. 

However, the department will allow stays for up to a maximum of 15 nights if they are visiting Phobjikha/Gangtey, Bumthang and areas in eastern part of Bhutan, Haa Valley, Gasa and specialized trekking routes which take longer to complete.

The SOP states that extension beyond seven nights will be granted on a case-by-case basis after careful vetting by the department. 

Proof of accommodation will be required to approve the longer itinerary. The agents will be responsible for their own visa fees and visa applications. 

According to the department, all international agents will be required to commit to marketing activities for Bhutan in return for the SDF waiver.

It is expected that the agents will agree to do as many activities as possible to promote Bhutan like promoting Bhutan in a prominent way on their website, an Electronic Direct Mail (EDM) or newsletter to their database and social media posts tagging Bhutan Tourism.