The small kingdom plans to reopen its borders to tourists on September 23 after more than two years of being completely closed to tourists due to the Covid pandemic. But in advance it was announced that all travelers would have to pay 200 US dollars per day. This should guarantee “high-quality tourism” with few tourists, according to Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, who is also chairman of the Tourism Council. The “sustainable development levy” is intended to maximize the economic benefits of tourism while minimizing the impact on Bhutan’s traditional culture.
The country with its spectacular landscapes, monasteries and fortresses was relatively isolated from the outside world for a long time: tourists were first allowed into the country in 1974, television was not introduced until 1999. As a result, Bhutan’s traditional society and everyday culture has survived better than most neighboring countries. It made headlines around the world that in Bhutan, instead of gross national product, gross national happiness was used as a benchmark for the country’s development and for political decisions. In addition to purely economic factors, the measurement of living standards should also include human and psychological elements of satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
“Pandemic has enabled us to start again”
“The coronavirus has enabled us to start again: It has enabled us to reposition the industry so that Bhutan benefits not only economically but also socially from tourism and at the same time the CO2 footprint is as low as possible,” said the Foreign Minister. In the long term, they want “high-quality experiences for visitors and well-paid jobs for our citizens”.
The tourism tax is to be used for climate protection measures, such as planting trees, building hydroelectric power plants and for sustainable tourism.
30 to 50 percent more expensive
Several representatives in the tourism industry criticize the move and warn that it will endanger the much-needed recovery of the industry after the pandemic. According to the “Financial Times”, tour operator World Expedition expects its most popular round trip, the 27-day Snowman Trek, to cost 10,600 euros instead of the current equivalent of around 7,000 euros.
“Increasing the price of a trip by 50 percent will have a major impact on the future of Bhutan’s travel industry,” said World Expedition UK chief Gordon Steer. He warned of the economic consequences for employees in Bhutan. The website Bhutan.com, on the other hand, assumes an increase of around 30 percent for a one-week trip.
From 65 to 200 dollars
Tourism in the country has always been strictly controlled. Travelers from countries other than India, Bangladesh and the Maldives have previously had to book organized tours and pay a “sustainable development levy” – although this was previously $65, not $200.
This fee was part of a total cost of $200 to $290, depending on the size of the tour group. But that included everything from the travel organizer to food, entrance fees and accommodation. All of this has to be paid extra. In future, travelers will be able to book hotels and travel guides themselves. For Indian travelers – neighboring Bhutan is a popular destination there – the fee is only 15 dollars.