Bhutan Wants You To Stay Longer And Pay Less, But Only If You Pay In USD. A Smart Move or A Mistake?

Photo of Bhutan Wants You To Stay Longer And Pay Less, But Only If You Pay In USD. A Smart Move or A Mistake? by Varsha Banerjee (Crazy Jetsetters)

Bhutan, the scenic Himalayan kingdom known for its environmental conservation and cultural preservation, is trying to attract more tourists by offering them a discount on its "Sustainable Development Fee" (SDF) if they stay longer than four days. The SDF, which was increased to $200 per night from $65 last year, is a fee that tourists have to pay to visit Bhutan in addition to their travel and accommodation costs. The SDF protects the environment and attracts high-end visitors who appreciate Bhutan's unique culture and traditions.

Bhutan, which bans mountain climbing to respect the sanctity of its peaks, and draws only a fraction of the tourists that visit nearby Nepal, hopes to boost its tourism sector, which accounts for 5% of its $3 billion economy. Tourism is one of the country's main sources of foreign exchange and employment, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Bhutan closed its borders for tourists in March 2020 and reopened them in September 2021 with strict health protocols.

According to the Department of Tourism, more than 47,000 tourists have visited Bhutan since January 2021, and the country is on track to achieve its "modest" goal of receiving 86,000 visitors by the end of the year, compared to about 315,600 in 2019, before the pandemic. However, this number is still far below the pre-pandemic target of 500,000 tourists by 2023.

The government has announced a new incentive scheme effective from this month until the end of 2024 to encourage more tourists to visit Bhutan and stay longer. Under this scheme, tourists who pay the SDF for four days can stay an extra four days without paying any additional fee. Similarly, tourists who pay the SDF for 12 days can stay for a full month. The incentive applies only to tourists who pay in dollars, not to visitors from neighbouring countries, like India who pay in rupees.

Dorji Dhradhul, director general of the Department of Tourism, said that the incentive scheme was designed to increase tourists' average length of stay in Bhutan, which is currently about six days. He said that if more tourists stay longer in Bhutan, tourism can help the economy grow faster and create more jobs and income. He also said that Bhutan wanted to gradually raise the contribution of tourism to 20% of its economy from about 5% now. He did not give any timeline for this goal.

Bhutan is famous for its Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy, which measures the well-being of its people based on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation. The country is also the first carbon-negative country in the world, meaning it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. The country has pledged to remain carbon-neutral for all times to come.

Bhutan offers a variety of attractions and experiences for tourists, such as hiking and camping in its pristine forests and mountains, visiting its ancient temples and fortresses, witnessing its colourful festivals and rituals, learning about its rich art and history, and enjoying its delicious cuisine and hospitality.

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