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If you work in the travel industry you’ve heard it before: it’s extremely hard for small travel agencies to compete with the travel giants like Expedia and Orbitz. Honestly it’s a cold war the home-based agent will never win. But the smaller agencies do have several advantages, two of which are knowledge and access to more unusual destinations. Exotics are becoming more and more popular every day. Don’t get me wrong, the Disney vacation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But as vacation time dwindles in the US, travelers are looking for more one-of-a-kind travel experiences. And people are particularly focused on going to places where others aren’t. I will admit I include myself in this group. So as I was searching places I should visit where tourists aren’t going I stumbled upon Gunnar Garfors blog post “The 25 Least Visited Countries in the World”
My interest was piqued, so I read Garfors’ list and for me the destinations range from ‘I’d love to do that’ to ‘you must be insane’. And although not every place on this list will make your clients give you carte blanche with their credit cards, there are a few that are poised to become the next “it” destination. So let’s take a look at some of these places in detail so you can show your clients how much of a cutting-edge travel rockstar you truly are.
For today, let’s start with number 17 on the list, Bhutan:
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Bhutan is an Asian country located specifically “on the eastern ridges of the Himalayas.” Due to the drastic variances in elevation, the country’s climate ranges from subtropical to alpine tundra.
Dzongkha is the national language and ngultrum the national currency. To travel to Bhutan you will need to book a trip there using a licensed Bhutanese tour operator, and must have an escort when exploring the country. There is also a minimum daily expenditure of $200/$250 per day which includes your hotel, food guide and transportation.
What to Do in Bhutan
You may not find the excitement of dynamic elevation variances reason alone to travel to Bhutan so consider some of these experiences as a reason to add Bhutan to your bucket list.
The number one thing to do is hiking. And being located in the Himalayas will get any climbing enthusiast hyped up, but those who are looking for something at a slightly lower elevation needn’t fear! Thimphu, the capitol city of Bhutan offers a multitude of hiking trails for novices and advanced hikers alike. Check out websites like TrekkinginBhutan.com for information on Bhutanese hiking. The website even provides you with a free 113-page trail guide and other resources like books, GPS info and Datums.
Want a different adventure but hiking is not your thing? Bhutan also offers a myriad of other “adventure activities” including cycling, kayaking and rafting, rock climbing and fishing.
Often times the word vacation is synonymous with relaxation, and Bhutan offers plenty of venues to recharge your body and spirit. The country is primarily Buddhist, and Bhutan‘s tourism site states it is one of the last strongholds of Vajrayana Buddhism. Finding a spiritual retreat in the area is as easy as finding a Dunkin’ Donuts in New England (as a native Bostonian I stand by this statement) and accommodations can vary from traditional spa hotels to minimalist retreats.
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For a truly tranquil experience plan to stay in Paro at Uma by COMO. This hotel only offers 29 rooms, nine of which are private villas. Complimentary yoga classes are provided every day except Sundays, and there are a variety of a la-carte room and all inclusive options for you to choose from. Check out the TripAdvisor.com rating for this resort.
Nothing injects you into the heart and history of a culture more than a festival does. On KingdomOfBhutan.com, Bhutan’s festivals or tshechus are described as “raucous, joyous affairs, but [also] holy spiritual events”. During this time the Dzongs are adorned with colorful decorations, while music and masked dancers fill the streets. City and rural natives don their finest and join together in remembrance and celebration. The larger festivals mark the high-season for Bhutan so be prepared to invest a little more into airfare and your hotel during these events.
Can’t choose which tshechu to attend? Check out Punakha Drubchen held in early spring. This festival is considered particularly unique because it features a reenactment from a historic 17th century battle between Bhutan and Tibet. Or look at the full list of major Bhutanese festivals here.
You got’ta eat. So why not make your journey an epicurean one? You will find rice is the primary ingredient of most dishes in Bhutan; proteins and vegetables vary regionally, as do cultural influences, so the specialties you encounter will depend on location.The true common thread in all Bhutanese gastronomy is spiciness!Chilies are considered a vegetable in Bhutan and are used liberally in dishes. But if you don’t like too much heat to your food, don’t fret.
According to Bhutan.com most professional chefs will accommodate Westerners’ preferences, including less spice. While in Bhutan try Sura, a sweet salted butter tea served for any occasion. Give the Tibetan version a try by following the recipe posted on Not Quite Nigella.
Considering adding Bhutan to your clients’ must see lists? Just make sure to send them there before others catch on so they can say “we went there before it was cool “.
Next time we’ll look at Kiribati.