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Successful AT&RTCM 2015 closes in Thimphu, Bhutan

The PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart 2015 (AT&RTCM 2015) in Thimphu, Bhutan successfully ended on Friday, February 6, 2015, with the Honourable Prime Minister of Bhutan, His Excellency Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, announcing that Bhutan will become a member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

Organised by PATA and generously hosted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, the three-day niche event, under the theme “Explore Beyond Tourism – Celebrate Happiness”, follows up on the success of AT&RTCM 2012 held in Paro, Bhutan, which was the first international travel trade event to be held in the country.

PATA CEO Mario Hardy noted in his welcome speech that, “The aim of these events is to bring together tourism professionals involved in adventure travel and responsible tourism to discuss creating new opportunities for promoting environmental protection and social sustainability within the industry.”

“As we see the potential for significant growth in adventure travel and responsible tourism in the coming years, new destinations have the opportunity to market themselves to these travellers as truly unique experiences,” added Mr. Hardy.

AT&RTCM 2015 began with a one-day conference where over 200 delegates from 30 countries were given the opportunity to hear from a diverse line-up of international speakers on creating new opportunities for promoting environmental protection and social sustainability within the industry. The conference brought together 19 speakers from 10 countries, including 12 CEOs/Founders and 3 starts-ups.

The highlight of the event was the keynote speech from Dasho Karma Ura, President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, who leads all studies related to the philosophy of Gross National Happiness and developing the indicators for its measurement.

In his address, he shared his views on the country’s idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), particularly its nine domains (Health, Living Standard, Education, Ecological Diversity & Resilience, Good Governance, Time - Use, Cultural Diversity & Resilience, Community Vitality, and Psychological well-being) and the 33 GNH indicators. Through these ideas, he explained how the country linked national philosophy to tourism.

At the conference, topics ranged from the Traditionalists vs the Disruptors, Engaging with Today’s Millennial Traveller, Future Trends of Adventure Travel, and Successes and Challenges in Community Based Tourism, and heard from established and experienced travel professionals such as Mandip Singh Soin Founder & Managing Director, Ibex Expeditions Pvt Ltd, India; Willem Niemeijer, Founder & CEO, Khiri Travel Group; Stewart Moore, Chief Executive Officer, EC3/EarthCheck; and Ford Cochran, Director of Programming, National Geographic Expeditions; as well as those who are advancing the notion of a sustainable tourism future, such as Ian Ord, Founder and Creative Director, Where Sidewalks End Travel Inc; Mike Beunder, CEO, WithLocals, Netherlands; Kelly Tompkins, Founder & CEO, Adventure Link; and Michael Kwee, Coordinating Director, Banyan Tree Global Foundation.

Companies both large and small were also well represented including TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, World Nomads,, and the Banyan Tree Global Foundation.

By bringing together such a dynamic and diverse group of speakers, the Association hopes to highlight the need to discuss, analyse and share various ideas with both the public and private sector in planning, building and promoting a sustainable tourism product.

To highlight PATA’s commitment in promoting local culture and heritage, as part of the conference programme the Association included a cultural workshop coordinated by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Conference delegates were able to take part in Khuru, the traditional dart game played by the Bhutanese.

On the last day of the event, PATA was especially honoured to have the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the Honourable Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, deliver a welcome speech to the Mart delegates. He noted that this year has been declared “Visit Bhutan 2015” to commemorate the 60th anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck the 4th King. He stated that, “Visit Bhutan is about celebrating a great man, the architect of unique tourism in the world.”

“Tourism in Bhutan isn’t about money or numbers or about us, it’s about the journey through Bhutan and one-self, a journey that guests can cherish throughout their lives,” added His Excellency Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay.

During the Mart portion of the event, PATA welcomed 62 sellers from 36 organisations and eight destinations including Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, Solomon Islands and Thailand, as well 37 buyers from 37 organisations and 14 source markets, including the United States, Canada, France, Finland, Russia, China, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The delegates enjoyed a full day of high quality buyer-seller interactions with over 700 pre-matched appointments. Furthermore, some 13 international media delegates are in attendance.

An opening ceremony in front of the Royal Banquet Hall officially opened the Mart portion of the event, and was presided over by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the Honourable Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, and Mr Hardy.

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