Bhutan, a Buddhist country on the eastern side of the Himalayas known for its monasteries, fortresses, and spectacular landscapes, has finally decided to reopen to international visitors in September of this year.
The decision to reopen the borders to foreign visitors comes as the Bhutan government seeks to revive its economy.
It is worth mentioning that the Himalayan kingdom, located between India and China, is opening its borders for the first time in more than two years since the Covid-19 outbreak began.
According to a press release issued by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB);
“The Kingdom of Bhutan will be reopening its borders to tourists from 23rd September 2022. But it will do so with a renewed focus on the sustainability of the sector.”
The release also noted that Bhutan’s tourist sector will be revamped, with a focus on three key areas. They are infrastructure and services, tourist travel experiences, and the environmental effect of the industry.
Dr Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan said;
“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. In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.”
Among the many changes are new guidelines for service providers such as hotels, guides, tour operators, and drivers, who will soon be subjected to a more formal approval procedure before engaging guests. Employees will be expected to engage in skilling and reskilling programmes to improve service quality.
Amid the intensifying threat of climate change, Bhutan will also be stepping up its efforts to keep the country carbon-negative and a green destination for tourists. The nation is keenly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as frequent rain and floods.
Sustainable Development Fee
Bhutan will raise the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for tourists from USD65 per person per night to USD200, with the proceeds going toward programmes that promote carbon-neutral tourism and the development of more sustainable tourism industry.
This includes offsetting the carbon footprint of tourists and upskilling workers in the sector. Indian tourists will continue to 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.
The fee changes came into effect on 20 June 2022.
The revamp of the tourism sector comes amid a widespread transformation across the country, from the civil service to the financial sector. The changes are geared towards developing Bhutan’s human capital by equipping the population with more proficient skills, knowledge, and experiences.