On September 23rd, Bhutan reopened its borders to international tourists with an increased fee of $200 per person per night, up from the previous $65. The country now holds the title of the most expensive country in the world as the rate no longer includes accommodation, travel, or entrance fees to emblematic buildings and museums.
The prime minister of Bhutan, Lotay Tshering, said the kingdom’s policy of high-value, low-volume tourism has existed since Bhutan began welcoming guests to our country in 1974. “But its intent and spirit were watered down over the years, without us even realizing it,” Tshering said. The prime minister said that people entering Bhutan are not required to undergo a PCR test, but need to be fully vaccinated.
We are reminding ourselves about the essence of the policy, the values and merits that have defined us for generationsLotay Tshering, Bhutan’s Primer Minister
Tshering stated that the aim of the sustainable development fee was to reinvest the proceeds in the future of the people of Bhutan. “While those working in the tourism sector will represent us at the forefront, the entire nation is the tourism industry, and every Bhutanese a host,” Tshering said. “The minimum fee we are asking our friends to pay is to be reinvested in ourselves, the place of our meeting, which will be our shared asset for generations.”
Bhutan is one of the most unique countries in the world thanks mainly to its geographical location, in the heart of the Himalayas and wedged between India and Tibet. But its isolation is also due to a tourism policy of low volume of visitors with a high purchasing power.
The country received its first tourists in 1974 during high season (March-May and September-November) and low season (December-February and June-August). Included in the fee there used to be the accommodation, meals, transfers, guides and entrance fees to monuments; everything was managed through an official tour operator and a part was destined exclusively to sustainable development and protection of natural resources. Bhutan has managed to preserve beliefs, traditions, temples and peoples that do not seem to have changed in centuries.
Ministry of Tourism officials see the new regulations as a way to reduce the carbon footprint, improve travelers’ experiences (more sustainable accommodations, road infrastructure, among others) and benefit Bhutanese with better working conditions.
The isolated and mountainous kingdom, with a population of hardly 800,000 people, has always been cautious of a large volume of visitors to avoid an adverse impact on its ecology and culture. However, following the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, after the first case being detected in a United States citizen, Bhutan shut down its borders.
Tourism is an essential element in the country’s economy. The number of foreign tourists fell by 91 percent, from over 315,000 in 2019 to some 30,000 the following year. The tourism sector also suffered an 88 percent drop in revenues in 2020 as a result of measures against Covid-19, according to Tourism Council of Bhutan data.