Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974, when the Government of Bhutan, in an effort to raise revenue and to promote the country’s unique culture and traditions to the outside world, opened its isolated country to foreigners. In 1974, 287 tourists visited Bhutan. Since then the number of tourists visiting Bhutan has increased to 2,850 in 1992, rising dramatically to 7,158 in 1999. By the late 1980s tourism contributed over US$2 million in annual revenue.
Despite being open to foreigners, the government is acutely aware of the environmental impact tourists can have on Bhutan’s unique and virtually unspoiled landscape and culture. Therefore, they have restricted the level of tourist activity from the start, preferring higher quality tourism. Until 1991, the Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC), a quasi-autonomous and self-financing body, implemented the government’s tourism policy. The Bhutanese government, however, privatised the Corporation in October 1991, facilitating private sector investment and activity. As a result, today over 75 licensed tourist companies operate in the country. All tourists (group or individual) must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom designed travel program. Most foreigners cannot travel independently in the kingdom. The arrangements must be made through an officially approved tour operator, either directly or through an overseas agent.
The most important centres for tourism are in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, and in the western city of Paro, near India. Taktshang, a cliff side monastery (Called the “Tiger’s Nest” in English) overlooking the Paro Valley, is one of the country’s attractions. This temple is incredibly sacred to Buddhists. Housed inside the temple is a cave in which the Buddhist Deity who brought Buddhism to Bhutan fasted for 90 days as he battled the demons that inhabited this valley, in order to spread Buddhism. The temple has been standing for well over a thousand years, yet has suffered two fires in which the damage has been repaired. Druk Air used to be the only airline operating flights in Bhutan, however now it is serviced by Bhutan Airlines as well.
Visas to Bhutan are obtained through its embassy or consulate in one’s home country.