Bhutan will finally welcome back tourists in September, after being closed for over two years. The Kingdom’s Tourism Council (TCB) has announced that the reopening also brings “a renewed focus on the sustainability of the sector”, thus the only carbon negative country in the world will increase the price of the sustainability fee tourists have to pay when visiting.
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.
Covid-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated, so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically, but socially as well, while keeping carbon footprints low.Dr Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan
“The nation is keenly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as frequent rain and floods”, reads the TCB statement. Therefore, 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 travellers 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.
Our strategy for the revamp of the tourism sector brings us back to our roots, of ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism, where we meet the needs of tourists while protecting our people, culture, values and environment.Dorji Dhradhul, Director General TCB
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 reskilling programmes, 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.
“Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese. Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations”, explained Dhradhul. The sector is a significant source of income for Bhutan, having generated around $84 million annually between 2017 and 2019. Since the first 300 foreign tourists were welcomed in 1974, the kingdom reached 315,600 visitors in 2019, a 15% increase compared to the previous year. After strict Covid-19 measures, the country is ready to welcome tourists again, for the right price of course.