Bhutan to Halve Tourist Fee in Effort to Boost Struggling Tourism Sector
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has announced plans to reduce its daily tourist fee in an effort to revive its struggling tourism sector. The country had raised its “Sustainable Development Fee” to $200 per visitor per night in September last year, following the end of Covid-19 restrictions. The fee was intended to offset the carbon emissions generated by tourists. However, with the sector still facing challenges, the government has decided to halve the fee to $100 per night, effective from September and lasting for four years.
The decision to reduce the tourist fee was made with the aim of stimulating economic growth and generating employment opportunities. Bhutan recognizes the important role that tourism plays in its economy, both in terms of earning foreign exchange and contributing to overall economic development. The country has witnessed a significant increase in tourist arrivals over the years, with the number reaching 315,600 in 2019, a 15.1% increase from the previous year.
Despite the growth in tourism, Bhutan has always been cautious about the impact of mass tourism on its environment and cultural heritage. In order to preserve the sanctity of its peaks, the country has banned mountain climbing. The high tourist fee has also acted as a deterrent for mass tourism, attracting only those visitors who are willing to spend more. This has resulted in Bhutan receiving a fraction of the number of tourists compared to neighboring Nepal.
The government hopes that by reducing the fee, it will encourage more tourists to visit Bhutan, particularly during the peak tourist period from September to December. This period is known for its religious and cultural events, which attract a significant number of visitors. Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of the Department of Tourism, believes that the reduction in fee could lead to a boost in tourist arrivals during this period.
Despite efforts to attract more tourists, Bhutan has struggled to see a significant increase in numbers. In June, the government relaxed rules on length of stay and fees for tourists, but the expected surge in arrivals did not materialize. Since January, over 56,000 tourists have visited Bhutan, but the majority of them (42,000) were Indian nationals who only had to pay a fee of 1,200 Indian rupees (€13.50) per day.
Tourism is a significant source of employment in Bhutan, with approximately 50,000 Bhutanese working in the sector. Prior to the pandemic, tourism contributed around $84 million per year in foreign exchange. The government aims to increase the contribution of tourism to the country’s economy from 5% to 20%.
In conclusion, Bhutan’s decision to halve the tourist fee is a strategic move to revive its struggling tourism sector. By making the country more accessible to a wider range of visitors, Bhutan hopes to boost economic growth, generate employment opportunities, and increase its share of foreign exchange earnings. The reduction in fee is expected to attract more tourists, particularly during the peak tourist period, and contribute to the overall development of the country.