by Joe Wallen from The Telegraph, October 23, 2019
The only country which measures progress by the happiness of its citizens rather than its wealth has been named by the Lonely Planet travel guide as the top nation to visit in 2020.
Nestling in the Himalayas, Bhutan was selected by the judges for its spectacular snow-capped mountains, intricate Buddhist architecture and unusual culinary delights, such as the yak burger.
Unsurprisingly, its Gross National Happiness policy has also fascinated those with an interest in global development.
Levels of happiness are monitored by nine indicators: psychological well-being, health, time-use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.
The introduction of any potential new policy is evaluated against the impact it would have on these indicators. For example, Bhutan was the last nation to legalise the television in 1999 over fears it would diminish its culture.
And it has limited tourism and all but essential international trade to preserve national identity. In 1999, 491,504 tourists visited Nepal, but only 7,000 were allowed into Bhutan.
Even today, visitors to Bhutan must book an arranged tour and be accompanied at all times. The number of annual visitors is still controlled but around 275,000 entered in 2018.
Visitors also face a budget-bursting tax of $200-a-day (£154) from December to February rising to $250 (£193) for the remainder of the year. Solo travellers must pay an additional $40-a-day fee.
This fee includes accommodation, travel and food costs with the remainder invested in the Bhutanese environment.
According to the Global Happiness Index of 2019, Bhutan was ranked above India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Its government currently provides free healthcare and education and mandates that at least 60 per cent of land must be forested.
However, globally it was only judged to be the 97th happiest nation with further economic growth and opportunities needed to improve the living standards of its citizens.
In 2000 just over a third of Bhutanese people were living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations. A reluctance to court foreign investment meant its economy was reliant on agriculture and stunted.
Its rulers have since introduced some reforms and fostered hydropower and construction industries to boost incomes. Progress is slow but the poverty rate has fallen below 10 per cent, according to the Asian Development Bank.
While free healthcare is provided the World Health Organization has warned that many Bhutanese cannot receive treatment for serious conditions, like heart attacks, due to governmental budget constraints and the emigration of doctors for better wages.
Over 100,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin - a Hindu minority, known as the Llotshampa - were also expelled from the country in the 1990s and remain in refugee camps in Nepal.
Despite the on-going uncertainty around Brexit, England finished second in Lonely Planet’s ranking for 2020.
Other nations in the top ten included the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Aruba.
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