In a strategic move aimed at revitalizing its tourism sector, the picturesque Himalayan realm of Bhutan has decided to cut its daily tourist fee by half. The new fee will be $100 per night and will come into effect from September 2023. It will last for four years.
The country, which has been grappling with the aftermath of COVID-19 restrictions, hopes that this reduction will act as a catalyst for tourism’s recovery. The new measure comes a year after the lifting of pandemic-related limitations.
Who Needs to Pay the SDF in Bhutan?
All tourists visiting Bhutan need to pay a $200 Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) per day. This fee is used to fund the country’s environmental protection and conservation efforts, as well as its healthcare and education systems.
There are a few exceptions to the SDF. Children under the age of 5 are exempt from the fee, and Indian nationals are required to pay a lower fee of INR 1,200 (about $14.50) per day.
The SDF is collected by tour operators, who then remit it to the government. Tourists can also pay the SDF directly to the government, but this is not usually necessary.
From $200 to $100: A New Tourist Fee Regime
Initially introduced as a “Sustainable Development Fee,” the daily charge levied on tourists will experience a significant reduction. Previously set at $200 per visitor per night, the fee will now stand at $100 per night.
This revised tariff is scheduled to be implemented in September and will remain in effect for a span of four years, according to a statement issued by the government on Friday.
The government’s rationale behind this move is rooted in recognizing the pivotal role that tourism plays in driving employment opportunities, foreign exchange earnings, and overall economic growth.
As Bhutan strives to strike a balance between economic development and environmental conservation, this reduction in the tourist fee is anticipated to attract more visitors during the upcoming peak tourist period from September to December.
Strategic Vision for Tourism Growth
Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of Bhutan’s Department of Tourism, expressed optimism that the halving of the tourist fee could lead to an uptick in arrivals during the peak tourist period.
This period, spanning from September to December, encompasses numerous religious and cultural events that draw visitors to this predominantly Buddhist nation.
In an effort to entice more tourists, the Bhutanese government recently relaxed rules concerning the length of stay and associated fees. However, despite these measures, tourist numbers have not rebounded as anticipated.
Dhradhul noted that while over 56,000 tourists have visited Bhutan since January, a significant portion—around 42,000—were Indian nationals, who are subject to a lower fee of 1,200 Indian rupees ($14.5) per day.
Tourism: A Key Economic Driver
The tourism industry holds great significance for Bhutan’s economy. Prior to the pandemic, the sector generated about $84 million annually in foreign exchange and provided employment for around 50,000 Bhutanese individuals.
As the nation navigates the complexities of post-pandemic recovery, the reduction in tourist fees stands as a beacon of hope for a brighter future for Bhutan’s tourism landscape.
In conclusion, Bhutan’s decision to slash its tourist fees by half underscores its commitment to striking a delicate balance between economic growth and environmental preservation.
By making tourism more accessible, the Himalayan kingdom aspires to breathe new life into a sector that has weathered the challenges of the pandemic, with hopes of a resurgence that aligns with its unique cultural and natural treasures.