Bhutan’s tourist policy revamp may hit travel operators in eastern India


Travel operators in eastern India are apprehending a strong impact on their business after Bhutan changed its policy on tourist entry fee. Currently, Bhutan charges every foreign visitor $250 per day, including a $65 ‘Sustainable Development Fee’ (SDF) and $40 visa charge. However, ‘regional tourists’ from India, Bangladesh and Maldives were not subjected to the SDF and visa fee.

Bhutan is now going to introduce SDF and a permit processing fee for the regional tourists as well and a draft policy on the matter may be receive approval by the end of December.

“Introduction of mandatory government fee for every incoming tourist, including those from India, will cut down the number of Bhutan-bound Indian tourists. As a common practice, almost all of them spend at least two nights in the eastern Himalayan region, which includes Sikkim and the West Bengal foothills,” said tourism consultant Raj Basu.

According to the director-general of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhul, the move is aimed at Bhutan’s ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism policy. “This policy draft is under preparation for the last four years,” said people associated with tourism in Bhutan.

“Being predominantly a leisure destination, Bhutan attracts family groups from India or Bangladesh. The ‘Sustainable Development Fee’ alone will cost a family of five Rs 22,000 extra for a short trip. That is quite high for budget-conscious tourists, who constitute 65-70% of the total number of Indian visitors to Bhutan. In fact, the impact will be quite visible if the total fee exceeds Rs 500 per person daily,” said Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network.

As per TCB statistics, out of 274,097 visitor arrivals in 2018, regional arrival figure was 202,290. Of this, contribution of India and Bangladesh were 191,836 and 10,450 respectively.

In 2018, Bhutan’s total tourism receipt from international leisure tourists was $85.41 million. Of this, $26.29 million was direct revenue for the government through SDF, visa fees and 2% TDS.

Following introduction of the new fee, even the reduced regional visitors’ count can generate huge revenue for Bhutan. In addition, this can highly optimise the limited tourist holding capacity of the country.

In 2018, Bhutan’s total tourism receipt from international leisure tourists was $85.41 million