Hospitality business


Shebji is Sombaykha’s northernmost village. And, civil servants, especially Dzongkhag officials, traveling to Sombaykha normally spend a night in there. After walking continuously downhill from Tergola (at about 4000 meters) through alpine meadows, giant rhododendron forests, and subtropical jungle to Shebji (about 1500 meters), most travelers are happy to rest their tired knees in this little hamlet.

Now, in accordance with our age-old traditions also still practiced throughout rural Bhutan, travelers can choose to eat and drink, rest and sleep in any one of Shebji’s eight houses. Each one of them would feel honoured and very happy to offer their hospitality to any traveler, even if the traveler was not known to them.

Most civil servants choose to rest in Aum Kunzang’s home. Aum Kunzang and her husband, Ap Kinely, who served as a Mang-gi Ap at one time, happily welcome all of them to their two-storied farmhouse and offer them their best tea, food, ara, and bedding. They have a constant stream of visitors to entertain – two to three groups every week during the winter months, some traveling to Sombaykha, others returning to Haa. Yet they don’t charge a thing. There’s no price attached, or expected, for their generous services. And, it would be downright rude to enquire.

So how do they manage? Another tradition allows travelers to gift a little something – in kind or in cash – as a token of their appreciation to their hosts. Naturally, the hosts always refuse. But, if their guests exercise a little determination, they have no option but to accept.

Aum Kunzang’s guests always leave a gift for her. Those “gifts” more than cover her expenses. In fact, she’s embarrassed that she makes a tidy profit from her hospitality – hospitality that she charges nothing for.

GNH and business, not mutually exclusive.

Bringing GNH home

Happiness for some

Happiness for some

GNH is synonymous with Bhutan. So it’s important for us to participate in and contribute to the growing international knowledge base on GNH. Still, I was a little concerned when, recently, our prime minister personally led a 24-member delegation to a GNH conference in Brazil. After all, it had been barely 10 weeks since he had visited Japan to tell them about GNH.

Like some, I felt that the PM should have been in attendance when the nation’s highest legislative body was in session. Like others, I believed that he should have stayed behind to help victims of the recent calamities rebuild their lives. And, like a few others, I felt that while hitting the lecture circuit may be important, especially when GNH is in the spotlight, our head of government would find ample time and opportunity to do after he leaves office.

As it turns out, it was a good thing that our prime minister attended the Brazil conference! The visit, it appears, taught him one important lesson: that GNH is not exactly thriving in its birthplace. Yesterday, upon his arrival back home, he told the media that Bhutan was “falling behind” in the implementation of GNH. Today, he reported to the National Assembly that in parts of Brazil he saw GNH at work – individuals, NGOs, universities, private businesses, and local governments, we were told, had all made it their business to promote gross national happiness. And, he excitedly told lawmakers of immediate plans to operationalise GNH.

Very good. Our government now understands what the common man has long known: namely that, to increase happiness levels, we need is less talk and more action.

Talk about happiness, however convincing, will not make emerging problems like poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, income disparity, crime, corruption, drug abuse, domestic violence, child labour, and garbage go away. Only hard work will do so.

Otherwise, Bhutan and GNH may quickly become a contradiction in terms.

Photo credit: Kuensel

Is the GDP in our GNH?

Here’s some good news from the RMA: our GDP, which is about Nu 59 billion, grew by 21.4% in 2007 and increased per capita GDP to US$ 1900. Not bad. We now have the highest GDP per person in South Asia. But what does this mean?

Do you contribute your share to the GDP? If you do, you would have contributed US$ 1900 worth of goods or services to the economy. And if you do that, you would earn US$ 1900 in one year. Now US$ 1900 is roughly Nu 95,000 which is about Nu 7,900 a month. Do you earn that much? If you do, you earn your share of the GDP. If you don’t, you earn that much more, or less, of the GDP.

But let’s say you are married, that your spouse does not work, and that you have two young children. That’s a total of four people in your family living off only your salary – that wouldn’t be farfetched. Now how much would you have to earn to get your family of four to enjoy their share of the GDP? Nu 7,900 times 4, or Nu 31,600 a month. Do you earn that much? Probably not. Most families don’t.

What does this mean?

This means that we don’t work to earn much of the money that is pumped into our economy in the form of international loans, aid and hydropower exports. This means that imports dominate exports. That money does not circulate among us sufficiently. And this means that we don’t have enough people working outside our farms. This means that our GDP is not really that impressive.

I’ll be happier with a smaller GDP and a much more modest per capita GDP, but one which truly reflects our productivity. A per capita GDP that most Bhutanese can claim to earn.

And one more thing: I’ll be happy if my earnings, however humble they may be, grew at more or less the same ratio as the GDP.

Happiness for me

More than 90 scholars from 25 countries have descended on Thimphu to participate in the 4th International Conference on GNH. The conference, which is organized by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, was inaugurated this morning.

Interest in GNH is growing. And every year, many more sociologists, economists, psychologists, politicians and even businessmen and women join the ranks of GNH believers. What do most of them do? They conduct study, research, survey, analyze, hypothesize, and propose theories. They publish. And we are blessed with a growing library on the important subject of GNH.

Let me also share my thoughts – simple and straight forward – on happiness for me.

I believe that to be happy I must enjoy a sense of security, a sense of identity and a sense of purpose. And increasing amounts of security, identity and purpose would lead to increasing levels of happiness for me, my family and my community. That would be good for GNH.