In what should be a time of rejuvenation for the travel industry, tour operators across the landlocked Himalayan nation are grappling with uncertainty and doubt, casting a shadow over their comeback hopes.
As the upcoming travel season approaches, a sense of negativity engulfs the industry due to a variety of obstacles. These challenges include border limitations and adjustments to the Sustainable Development Fees (SDF), which are impeding the industry’s recovery.
Tour operators report that bookings have decreased by over 60 percent, in stark contrast to the past.
In the past, Bhutan’s travel and tour companies secured bookings months in advance, especially during peak tourism season. However, the current situation has led to a significant lack of reservations.
Another tour operator revealed that the recently introduced SDF incentives have not succeeded in attracting Asian tourists. This is especially true for those planning short trips. This hesitancy among Asian tourists further contributes to the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the upcoming seasons.
More Challenges Prevail
In addition, local tour operators in Phuentsholing are facing further challenges. They are dealing with intense competition from operators on the border in Jaigaon. The allure of cost-effectiveness has driven tourists to opt for the services of border-side tour operators, leaving local operators in a challenging predicament.
Several recommendations have been made to the government in a bid to alleviate the situation. These include lowering the SDF tariff to USD 100 per day, and collaborating with airlines to reduce fares for Indian tourists, potentially attracting more high-end visitors from the neighboring nation.
In 2019, Bhutan welcomed a staggering 315,599 tourists. However, the figures from September 23, 2022, to July 26, 2023, paint a different story, with a mere 75,132 tourists arriving during this period. Among these, 52,114 were INR-paying tourists, and 23,026 were paid in dollars. Interestingly, 10,410 fell within the USD 65 tariff category, indicating diverse spending patterns among visitors.