Bhutan aims to triple tourism in two years

Bhutan, a remote Himalayan nation that charges tourists hundreds of dollars a day to visit, wants to triple the number of foreign visitors by 2012, the prime minister has said.

The insular Himalayan kingdom, famed for its adoption of "gross domestic happiness" as the key measurement of its success, has so far targeted visitors with deep pockets in a deliberate policy to promote "high value" tourism.

The online version of Bhutan's state-owned Kuensel newspaper said Thimpu expected more than 30,000 tourists in 2010 in a first step to meet an ambitious target of luring 100,000 wealthy tourists to the hilly country by 2012.

"We want to expand this sector without compromising our policy of high quality, low impact and not volume tourism," Kuensel quoted prime minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Thinley as saying in a report dated 14 September.

"We're doing quite well. The highest was in 2008 and, this year, we are definitely going to cross the 30,000 mark, possibly 35,000. And this is our starting year against the target of 100,000 tourists by 2012," he said.

Western visitors to Bhutan must pay a minimum of 200 dollars a day for visa and government-approved travel agency fees.

Economic growth in Bhutan slowed sharply last year to six percent as tourist numbers fell, the World Bank said in May.

It said the Buddhist-majority nation saw a seven-million-dollar decline in tourism income in the 2008/2009 financial year from 39 million dollars the previous year.

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