Bhutan has announced that the country will reduce tourist fees for those staying for more than four days. The goal is to boost visitor numbers, which are still a fraction of those seen before the pandemic. When the picturesque Himalayan kingdom reopened its borders to tourists in September last year, it increased its sustainable development tax to $200 (183 euros) per visitor per night, up from the $65 (59 euros) fee, which lasted for about three decades. Authorities claim that the sustainable development tax is intended to attract wealthier tourists. The revenue is used to preserve pristine landscapes and offset the ecological footprint left by visitors.
Bhutan has banned rock climbing and thus attracts only a fraction of the tourists who visit neighboring Nepal. From this month until the end of 2024, tourists paying the daily rate for four days will be allowed to stay an additional four days. Tourists paying the 12-day fee will be allowed to stay for a full month.
If more tourists stay longer in Bhutan, tourism can help our economy grow faster.Dorji Dhradhul, Director General of the Ministry of Tourism
The incentive applies only to tourists paying in dollars. Bhutan aims to gradually increase tourism’s contribution to the overall economy from around 5% today to 20%, without setting a specific date. According to Dhradhul, over 47,000 tourists have visited Bhutan since January, according to The Independent. This would enable the country to reach its target of 86,000 visitors by the end of the year, up from around 315,600 in 2019.
Bhutan’s policy of sustainable tourism
In the summer of 2022, the Kingdom’s Tourism Council (TCB) announced that the country’s reopening would a renewed focus on the sustainability of the sector. There are three main areas of focus for the evolution of the tourism sector: infrastructure and services, travel experiences and environmental impact. “In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens,” said Dr Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Chairperson of TCB.
“The nation is keenly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as frequent rain and floods”, read the TCB statement. Bhutan will be stepping up its efforts to keep the country carbon-negative and a green destination for tourists. The Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) will be raised from $65 to $200 per person per night, which will go towards activities that promote carbon-neutral tourism and building a more sustainable tourism sector. This includes offsetting the carbon footprint of tourists and upskilling workers in the sector. Indian tourists will pay a previously stipulated fee, which will be revised at a later date.
At the same time, the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) will be removed. The rate refers to the minimum sum paid by all tourists for an all-inclusive package tour to Bhutan. The MDPR has in the past often limited the tourist experience, as travelers could only choose packaged tours provided by tour operators. Going forward, tourists will have the flexibility to engage service providers directly and pay for their services accordingly.
The new measures also cover revised standards for service providers, including hotels, guides, tour operators and drivers, which will soon be subjected to a more robust certification process before they can engage tourists. Employees will be required to participate in skilling and re-skilling programs, where necessary, to boost service quality. “The changes are geared towards developing Bhutan’s human capital by equipping the population with more proficient skills, knowledge, and experiences”, said the TCB.