As Bhutan reopens, why Indians are set to pay a ‘tourism fee’ | India News

Bhutan are all set to welcome international tourists once again. On September 23, the Buddhist kingdom on the eastern edge of the Himalayas will reopen its two main border crossings at Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu, along the Assam border, for the first time in two and a half years. This time, however, Indians – who can enter the country without a passport, if they have a permit and voter card – will have to pay a nominal ‘tourist fee’.
In March 2020, ‘one of the happiest countries in the world’ quickly closed to limit the spread of Covid-19. It also introduced strict border containment measures and safety protocols, which experts say have hit key economic sectors such as tourism, construction and manufacturing. In 2020, the country’s GDP growth hit an all-time low of 10.08%.
Given that Bhutan is heavily dependent on tourism, with more than 50,000 people working in the industry out of a total population of 7.72 lakh, its move to reopen its borders is a blessing. According to the report, revenue from tourism decreased by 41% in 2019-2020 compared to the previous year.
The reopening also means more to Indians as they make up the largest number of tourists in Bhutan. In 2020 alone, out of 29,812 tourist arrivals to Bhutan, about 22,298 were from India.
In an interview, Dorji DhradhulGeneral manager, Bhutan Tourism Board tell TOI why Indian tourists will now pay 1,200 rupees a day – while non-Indian international tourists will continue to pay $200 daily – how the country hopes to use the fund to remain carbon negative and a green tourist destination, and why wants all visitors to come “with an open mind” to experience the best of Bhutanese culture. Quoted:
The India-Bhutan border gate will reopen on September 23 after 2.5 years. Can you tell us why you decided to reopen it now?
September 23 is a good day for us, as it coincides with one of our local festivals, Rain of Grace Day, which marks new beginnings. We see the reopening of Bhutan as a great opportunity to reset our tourism sector and return to the roots of low-volume, high-value tourism.
We announced a new tourism strategy this time, underpinned by transformations in three key areas: improving sustainability policies, upgrading infrastructure and enhancing the tourist experience. guest. We need tourism to not only benefit Bhutan economically, but also socially, while maintaining our low sustainability footprint.
How has the pandemic impacted the country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) development strategy?
Bhutan, like any other developing country, faces unprecedented challenges due to Covid-19, and we have faced the stark reality of the global crisis – the impact economy, job losses and rising unemployment rates.
The pandemic has caused enormous social and economic hardship and loss of life around the world. While the economy and livelihoods of the Bhutanese people have been negatively impacted, we are fortunate to be protected from some of the most devastating consequences. This is possible due to the leadership of the King [Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck] and the royal government’s efforts to provide timely and substantive support to individuals and businesses and adopt comprehensive health measures.
By His Majesty’s order, the National Recovery Fund was established in April 2020 to provide economic support to the people through Druk Gyalpo’s Kidu Relief Foundation. Relief Kidu provides monthly income support to individuals and loan interest payment assistance to borrowers for a period of one year (April 2020 to March 2021). More than 37,000 people and their children have received monthly income support from Kidu in the past one year, while nearly 140,000 loan accounts have benefited from interest payment assistance.
Since the country opened up to tourism in 1974, Bhutan has prioritized a ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism policy. Can you explain why this is in place?
The concept of High Value, Low Impact tourism was introduced by the Fourth King of Bhutan [Jigme Singye Wangchuck] from the very beginning when Bhutan opened its borders to international tourists in 1974. This is considered unique at a time when most other countries focus on mass tourism to make a quick profit in terms of tourism. economy.
Today, 50 years later, this policy is understood and appreciated. This policy is intended to avoid over-tourism and to ensure a balance between economic profit and non-material benefits such as conserving our environment, culture, history and resources to ensure our health and safety. happiness of our visitors, people and destinations.
This time, the Tourism Board asked only high-end hotels and motels to upgrade to attract the upper-class clientele. How does this impact the tourism industry as a whole?
Bhutan offers a wide range of accommodation facilities, from luxurious 5-star hotels to cozy homestays in a traditional village setting. According to our policy, a visitor (guest) must stay in accommodation certified by the Tourism Board of Bhutan (TCB). Guest-certified accommodations are TCB-certified hotels and accommodations based on the on-site Tourist Accommodation Standards and Classification System.
This can also refer to tent accommodation. Accommodation providers must meet the minimum requirements for certified guest accommodation set forth in the Standardization and Classification of Tourist Accommodations in order to be certified as a guest accommodation.
Only qualified hotels are allowed to serve guests. Hotels that are not yet certified, but want to serve guests, will have to apply for certification and have their readiness assessed. The goal of these changes is to ensure a high standard of both accommodation and services for visitors to Bhutan.
This year, Indian tourists will have to pay Rs. 1,200 a day. Can you tell us the rationale for the policy change?
Sustainable development (SDF) levy is not a new concept to tourism in Bhutan. We recently announced that we will increase our SDF from $65 to $200 per person per night (for international guests, excluding Indian guests), which will go towards projects that support development economic, social, environmental and cultural development of Bhutan.
The increased fees will fund national investment in programs that preserve Bhutan’s cultural traditions, as well as sustainability projects, infrastructure upgrades and opportunities for young people – as well as providing services. free health care and education for all. For example, some SDFs aim to offset visitor carbon emissions by planting trees, upskilling tourism workers, clearing and maintaining trails, and reducing reliance of the country into fossil fuels and the electrification of Bhutan’s transport sector, among other projects.
As a country vulnerable to the effects of climate change (experienced with melting glaciers, floods and unpredictable weather patterns), Bhutan will also step up efforts to maintain its position as a one of the few carbon negative countries in the world. In 2021, Bhutan has sequestered 9.4 million tons of carbon compared to our emissions capacity of 3.8 million tons.
In addition to protecting Bhutan’s natural environment, the SDF will also work towards preserving Bhutan’s built and living cultural heritage, including traditional architecture and values, as well as projects meaningful environmental projects. Our future requires us to protect our heritage and create new paths for generations to come.
Furthermore, the previously specified Minimum Daily Packet Rate (MDPR) has been dropped. This gives travelers the flexibility to engage directly with service providers or book their own flights, hotels and tours in Bhutan. Visitors from India will be charged a pre-specified fee, which will be revised at a later date.
In previous years, SDF was $65/person (plus $40/person/night fee for solo travelers). There will be a 50% SDF concessional tax for children aged 6 to 12 and an SDF exemption for children 5 years of age and younger.
In the past, unruly Indian tourists have caused a stir for disrespecting the local cultural heritage. What should a non-expert tourist keep in mind before coming to Bhutan?
We want all of our visitors to come with an open mind and experience our culture. However, as Bhutan is a deeply traditional and spiritual country, the Bhutanese people take their religion, culture, traditions and environment very seriously, so we appreciate our sentiments.
A guide is recommended for all visitors to Bhutan. This is to ensure that all visitors have a good experience when visiting our country and see the best that Bhutan has to offer. Guides also help take care of the safety and security of visitors, as there is a lot of wildlife in the countryside, the altitude and landscape can sometimes pose unique challenges.
While a guide does not necessarily need to accompany you on all your experiences (such as restaurants and shopping), guides should accompany you on experiences such as visiting temples and shrines. Local attractions and guides are required for all walking activities and for any journey beyond Thimphu and Paro. For any visitor entering Bhutan across the land border, a guide is required when leaving the border towns.

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