Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974, when the Government of Bhutan, in an effort to raise revenue and to promote the country's unique culture and traditions to the outside world, opened its isolated country to foreigners. In 1974, 287 tourists visited Bhutan. Since then the number of tourists visiting Bhutan has increased to 2,850 in 1992, rising dramatically to 7,158 in 1999. By the late 1980s tourism contributed over US$2 million in annual revenue.
Despite being open to foreigners, the government is acutely aware of the environmental impact tourists can have on Bhutan's unique and virtually unspoiled landscape and culture. Therefore, they have restricted the level of tourist activity from the start, preferring higher quality tourism. Until 1991, the Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC), a quasi-autonomous and self-financing body, implemented the government's tourism policy. The Bhutanese government, however, privatised the Corporation in October 1991, facilitating private sector investment and activity. As a result, today over 75 licensed tourist companies operate in the country. All tourists (group or individual) must travel on a planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom designed travel program. Most foreigners cannot travel independently in the kingdom. The arrangements must be made through an officially approved tour operator, either directly or through an overseas agent.