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CBI in practice: Bhutan Swallowtail soars to new heights with CBI’s coaching

Statistics show that Bhutan’s tourism industry has grown considerably since 2015, bringing in more foreign currency and creating much needed jobs. The increase in both international and regional visitors to this small kingdom nestled in the Eastern Himalayas is boosting competition in the sector. CBI’s Tourism Export Coaching Programme, launched in 2014 and ended in 2017, attracted a lot of interest among Bhutanese companies. One of the tour operators selected to come on board is a small startup called Bhutan Swallowtail Tours & Travels.

 

Highly motivated to learn and grow

Bhutan Swallowtail became fully operational in 2012, and since then has grown from three employees to a staff of 54 full-timers and freelancers. For some of its outdoor activities, the budding tourism company has ranked number 1 on TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website, for three years running. One of the Managing Partners, Tashi Wangmo, attributes this success to CBI’s Programme. ‘Ever since we joined the CBI programme, our company has seen an increased number of guests with record sales and turnover.’

When Tashi and her co-Managing Partner Sonam Dendup heard about CBI they were immediately interested.  ‘On the basis of CBI’s selection criteria and an audit, Bhutan Swallowtail was selected for our Tourism Export Coaching Programme in Bhutan,’ says CBI Programme Manager Yvette van Domburg. ‘We saw a lot of potential. The company was relatively inexperienced, but highly motivated to learn and grow.’

Record sales and turnover

Since the programme began, Bhutan Swallowtail has proven its worth, tripling its turnover on the European market. Tashi says the CBI has played a huge role in the firm’s development. ‘From the very beginning, CBI has been helpful in every sense. Not only did they give us valuable information on overall tourism trends globally and relevant insights into tourism demand in specific European countries. They also, more importantly, helped us to develop the skills we need to do our own market research and to better understand our customers.’

CBI programmes are designed to strengthen not just individual companies but entire sectors. This means Tashi’s company is benefiting from a more robust and up-to-date institutional environment in Bhutan. One example of this is that CBI is supporting the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) with the development of training programmes on needs assessment and effective trade fair participation – vital areas for Bhutan Swallowtail and other companies entering the export market.

Personalised tour itineraries

Bhutan Swallowtail specialises in organising cultural, spiritual, nature and trekking tours, as well as offering innovative activities. ‘It is difficult to be unique, so we try to explore new experiences and offers,’ Tashi explains. Bhutan Swallowtail focuses on personalised tour itineraries with unique and off-the-beaten-track activities. Tashi and Sonam tailor trips to individual visitors’ interests and hobbies and even involve them in the planning process.

European eating habits

Most of the company’s customers are European and American tourists. Tashi points out that Europeans’ longer holidays and love of adventure and unique cultures are to Bhutan’s advantage. But cultures and expectations can be different. ‘With CBI’s coaching and mentoring we’ve learned more about the European market and how to package our products to European tastes. CBI has made us much more aware of the expectations, the behaviour and even the eating habits of Europeans.”

Improved sustainability and efficiency

In the course of various training programmes and visits, CBI’s most valuable input has been to help Bhutan Swallowtail develop an Export Marketing Plan. ‘This plan has helped us compare our country and company to the global tourism market and local competitors. It has helped us focus on our strengths, identify our problems and how to improve them.’ One example is the company’s focus on sustainability: Bhutan Swallowtail is one of the first companies in Bhutan to become a partner to the international Travelife scheme. Travelife aims to help travel businesses improve their environmental performance; the next step after becoming a partner is to obtain Travelife certification.

Hiring the right people

The Export Marketing Plan has also helped Tashi and Sonam deploy human resources more efficiently. ‘The CBI expert, Mr. Theo Nagel, really helped us see the importance of having the right person for right job at the right time. We worked out detailed and correct job descriptions, which enabled us to hire capable, hardworking employees. We’ve also learned to plan in advance; getting the right people in place even before the sudden increase in sales. That way when things took off, operations continued smoothly with our employees working at maximum efficiency.’

Keeping up with growth

One of the biggest challenges for Tashi and Sonam is to keep up with the growing numbers of visitors, while maintaining consistent levels of individual guest care, efficiency and quality. ‘In Bhutan, tourism has become a very lucrative industry, especially for companies that are well organised and professional. Thanks to CBI, our company and our sector are growing stronger and more mature.’

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Pictured: Bhutan Swallowtail team