Bhutan’s strategy has always been to keep backpackers and mass tourism out. Citing “high value, low volume tourism.” Taktsang Palphug Monastery and the Tiger’s Nest is a well-photographed and sacred Vajrayana Himalayan Buddhist site located on the cliffside of the upper Paro Valley in Bhutan.
Travelers to Bhutan will, from September, pay a much higher Sustainable Development Fee when the destination reopens to international visitors. The Sustainable Development Fee will be adjusted from US$65 per tourist per night to US$200 and be used to fund activities that promote carbon-neutral and sustainable tourism, such as carbon offsetting.
Operators are attempting to put a positive spin on the higher fees.
They said visitors would now be free to choose their operators and plan itineraries. They can engage tourism services directly without restrictions of a Minimum Daily Package Rate – all in the hope of reviving tourism.
However, agents are quoted as saying that when the country opens its doors again after a 2-year hiatus, the new fees may deter some. The $3 billion economy in Bhutan contracted in the last two years, pushing more people into poverty.
Officials believe it will not, however, deter wealthy tourists, who will still travel. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) said tourists would be allowed to enter from September 23.
The tiny Himalayan country squeezed between China and India, of outstanding natural beauty and ancient Buddhist culture, took drastic early steps and banned tourism, a significant source of income, in March 2020 when the first COVID-19 case was detected there. Bhutan reported fewer than 60,000 infections and only 21 deaths.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan said in a press statement that the country’s tourism sector would revamp, focusing on infrastructure and services, tourist experiences, and tourism’s environmental impact.
Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, said: “Covid-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated.”