Bhutan Re-opening for Tourism

Bhutan had, so far, remained isolated from the rest of the world, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 was not at all severe in Bhutan, affecting only a very small percentage of Bhutan residents. That was mainly due to their isolated nature, tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas, and not allowing any cross-border connections or crossovers.

As the Covid-19 pandemic subsided, most countries in the world have opened for tourism. Tourism, which constitutes a large part of Bhutan’s economy, is also the need of the hour to give a boost to Bhutan’s economy. Hence, on 23rd September, Bhutan opened her doors to foreign tourism, inviting tourists from all over the world, including India.

The government of Bhutan will charge a sustainable development fee (SDF) from the tourists to improve services and infrastructure development for the tourism sector. In addition, that fee will also cover the expenses of environmental conservation. The fee has been fixed at ₹1200 per person per day for Indians and $200 per person per day for foreigners from other countries. In addition to the fee, visitors from India will have to produce a voter ID card, passport or any other identity proof at the immigration check posts, while children have to produce birth certificates.

Previously, tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives were not required to give any fee to enter Bhutan for tourism. The fee for other nationalities was only $65 per person per day. The sudden charging of a high sustainable development fee is not encouraging tourists into this beautiful Himalayan state. Also to be noted is that foreign tourists can stay only at hotels and homestays listed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, most of which are 3 star and above. Such developments do not encourage mass tourism in the small state, mainly from India, who would like a budget tour in Bhutan.

The country has also revised the entry fees to popular monasteries and dzongs, after a meeting of the  National Monument Committee held in July. For instance, entering the breathtaking Taktsang also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery one may have to shell out Rs 2,000 or $25. Mandatory travel insurance is another new addition that a visitor will have to incur while visiting Bhutan. Indians have an option to choose any domestic travel insurance at their point of entry. It is to be seen in the coming months how the Tourism Council of Bhutan manages to sustain revenue from tourism through its “High Value, Low Volume” scheme. Bhutan is extremely beautiful on its own, and is definitely worth a visit being a next door country, but the question is can the middle and lower-middle class tourists afford the cost.

Written by – Himadri Paul

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