Bhutan Reduces Fee: Opening Doors For Affordable Tourism

Bhutan cuts down on daily tourist fee, recognizing the vital role of tourism in fostering employment, foreign exchange, and driving the overall economic growth in the country.

Bhutan, which is known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” has unveiled an intriguing feature in its tourism strategy. The Bhutan Government has decided to halve the Sustainable Development Fee from $200 to $100 per night for tourists. For children aged 6 to 12, it was decided that an additional reduction, with a reduced visitor fee of $50 per night would be introduced. This special discount applies exclusively to tourists who pay in U.S. dollars.

This move, which has been effective since September and will span for four more years, reflects Bhutan’s commitment to rejuvenating its tourism sector, which had been facing challenges in attracting tourists even a year after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

The initial fee increase from $65 to $200, implemented in September of the previous year, aimed to offset the carbon footprint generated by visitors. However, the decision to reduce the fee again is grounded in recognizing the vital role of tourism in fostering employment, earning foreign exchange, and driving overall economic growth in the country as had been stated in a government announcement.

Bhutan, a predominantly Buddhist country that cautiously opened its doors to tourists in 1974, has long been vigilant about the impact of mass tourism on its unique cultural and environmental heritage. This is evident in its prohibition of mountain climbing to preserve the sanctity of its peaks. Despite such measures, the nation has experienced a notable rise in tourist numbers, reaching 315,600 in 2019, showcasing a 15.1% increase from the previous year.

The country’s goal is to elevate the contribution of tourism to its $3 billion economy from around 5% to an ambitious 20%.

Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of the Department of Tourism, anticipated that the reduced fee could have had a positive impact on arrivals, particularly during the peak tourist season due to various religious and cultural festivals in the country from September to December. This period offers the tourists a unique and enriching experience to remember.

While the government had previously relaxed rules on length of stay and fees for tourists in June, the anticipated surge in tourist numbers did not materialize as expected.

Dhradhul noted that, since January, over 56,000 tourists have visited Bhutan, with a significant portion being Indian nationals who paid a reduced fee of 1,200 Indian rupees ($14.5) per day.

Tourism is a significant economic contributor in Bhutan, employing approximately 50,000 people and earning about $84 million annually in foreign exchange in the three years leading up to the pandemic. The decision to reduce the tourist fee seeks to strike a balance between economic goals and the preservation of Bhutan’s rich cultural and environmental heritage, inviting travellers to explore this Himalayan kingdom with renewed enthusiasm.

Bhutan’s decision to reduce tourist fees and encourage tourism is grounded in recognizing the pivotal role of this tourism industry. Tourism significantly contributes to Bhutan’s economy by generating foreign exchange and fostering overall economic growth. The tourism sector is a major employer in Bhutan, engaging a considerable portion of the population. By promoting tourism, the country aims to create and sustain employment opportunities, especially important for local communities. Tourism also provides a platform for cultural exchange, allowing Bhutan to share its rich cultural heritage with the world. Visitors contribute to the preservation of Bhutanese traditions by engaging in cultural experiences and supporting local artisans.


The Way Forward For Other Countries  

Other countries might take lessons from Bhutan and should be urged to embrace a comprehensive and sustainable approach that effectively balances economic prosperity, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. At the core of this strategy lies a commitment to sustainable tourism practices, emphasizing the imperative to minimize the environmental footprint of tourism activities, instil responsible behaviour among visitors, and safeguard the ecological integrity of destination areas. Empowering local communities fosters a more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship between tourists and locals.

Diversifying the array of tourism offerings beyond traditional attractions emerges as another key facet of a forward-thinking strategy. This might involve promoting cultural experiences, adventure tourism, and eco-friendly initiatives to attract a diverse range of visitors. Simultaneously, strategic infrastructure development is pivotal. Investments in efficient transportation, waste management, and facilities catering to the needs of both tourists and local communities contribute to the overall resilience of the tourism sector. Flexible policies, conducive to changing circumstances, are vital in responding to evolving global dynamics.

By following these principles, nations can chart a sustainable trajectory that not only brings about the economic benefits of tourism but also safeguards cultural heritage and conserves the environment, ensuring its protection for the well-being of both current and upcoming generations.

Coming to Bhutan, it sees tourism as a multifaceted opportunity—economically, culturally, and environmentally. Its recent decision to reduce fees and offer special discounts underscores the nation’s dedication to balancing economic interests with the preservation of its rich cultural and environmental heritage by making it more accessible through reduced fees and preserving its unique heritage and environment.