Community-based Sustainable Tourism

August 2, 2017

Bhutan Placeholder

Community-based Sustainable Tourism

About the Implementing organization

Name: Royal Society for Protection of Nature

Country: Bhutan

Year of establishment: 1987

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization, Legally recognized non-profit status


Phobjikha Valley was renowned as an important conservation area due to its rich ecology. This clubbed with the spiritual and cultural wealth, the area today has cemented its place as a tourist hotspot. This, in turn, comes with increasing developmental activities and finding a right balance between conservation, livelihood, and development has become very crucial. Therefore, Phobjikha Valley Conservation Area abides by the same principles encompassed in the national government's tourism policy and seeks to abide by the guiding elements of the Gross National Happiness development model where social well-being, sustainable development, the preservation and promotion of culture, and environmental conservation are all intrinsically valued. Along with this line, RSPN has introduced alternative development options that support local livelihood and conservation objectives at the same time. Through the Community-based Sustainable Livelihoods initiative, the area remains committed to responsible tourism by promoting opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and alternative income generation to rural households, engaging in strategies to protect local ecosystems and the globally vulnerable Black-necked crane through responsible resource management strategies and extensive environmental education , and continuing to promote and protect the unique dimensions of socio-cultural and socio-ecological complexity that exist in this destination for countless future generations.


Nature Element

Forests / Wetlands / Rivers / Grasslands / Drylands / Wildlife

Type of Action

Protection / Restoration / Sustainable use / Mainstreaming into sectors / Access and benefit sharing / Pollution prevention / clean up / Invasive species / Awareness and education / Advocacy for land & water rights

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Disaster risk reduction / Peace and security / Health / Renewable energy / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

Phobjikha Valley boasts the largest natural wetland in Bhutan and is the largest wintering habitat for the Black-necked Cranes. Recognizing the significance of the area, the Royal Society for Protection of Nature has been carrying out conservation activities in Phobjikha since 1987, and the natural areas and resources are well protected. In 2016, Phobjikha has been designated a Ramsar site for wetland conservation. The valley is among the major potato growers in the country, however, at the level of grassroots conservation practices, local people intentionally alter their agricultural strategies and land-use patterns in consideration of the Black-necked cranes. Community forestry practices are the norm and local resources have been sustainably harvested for generations. Community-based Sustainable tourism initiated by the organization has greatly benefited the local community with its provision of alternate employment and income generating options.

Sustainable Development Impacts

After the success of the CBST program in Phobjikha, RSPN would soon be launching the National Home-stay Guidelines and Manual. This would help in the introduction of a similar project in another region of the country. The program has not only provided alternative income generating and employment options to the locals. Local artisans and guides are strongly supported in the valley through multiple agencies and promoted in diverse ways. RSPN has conducted numerous training to help foster marketing literacy and artisanal practices, thereby strengthening alternative livelihood opportunities and diversifying income strategies for local people. Numerous artists produce products to be sold at the Black-necked Crane festival in November and throughout the year. The homestay program also supports traditional food and drink production for visiting guests, thereby supporting traditional households and continuing a legacy of valued culinary heritage and food production.



The historically isolated kingdom of Bhutan has followed a strict "high-value, low-impact" sustainable tourism policy since allowing the first foreign visitors in the country in 1974. However, the tourism sector is witnessing an exponential growth and organizations are finding means to integration various means of involving and benefitting the local communities. The Community-based Sustainable Tourism adopted in Phobjikha is seen as a success and is being adopted as a model by the government and other agencies like the UN, national NGOs like Tarayana Foundation, Youth Development Fund. These agencies have already started replicating it other regions of the country.


CBST provides a direct income generating avenue for the communities, help promote and preserve tradition and culture, and understand the importance of environmental conservation.
Recognizing the importance and initiatives of sustainable tourism development, RSPN embarked on a CBST project in Haa where the successful models and experiences of RSPN’s past CBST projects’ in Phobjikha valley would be replicated. The CBST project is being implemented by RSPN in partnership with the Japan Environment Education Forum (JEEF) funded by the Japanese Technical Cooperation under the JICA Partnership Program.
To increase local benefits through participation in sustainable tourism activities and promote sustainable conservation of natural resources, the policy makers encouraged more local involvement and participation, provide awareness and training, maintain a fixed festival calendar, and streamline coordination between stakeholders for proper tourism plan implementation.

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