You can visit Bhutan again — if you’re willing to cough up $200 a day in fees

The Kingdom of Bhutan is reopening to tourists on Friday with a huge increase in its daily tourist tax.

Before the country closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, travelers to Bhutan were required to pay a minimum daily package rate of $200-$250, depending on the time of year. . The price often includes hotel, meal, transportation and tour guide expenses, as well as a mandatory $65 sustainable development fee.

But in late June, Bhutan passed a tourism levy bill that scrapped the minimum daily package rate in favor of raising the sustainable development fee from $65 to $200 per person per day.

Travel expenses – for hotels and meals, for example – are not included in the fee.

KCEO Raju Roy said that the country is providing fee concession for families. Heavenly Bhutan Travel.

“It is 50% for children between 6-12 years. [old] And … free for children 5 and under,” she said.

‘An Active Partnership’

Bhutan, and proponents of the new policy, say the move is in line with the country’s continued goal of attracting “high-value, low-volume” tourism.

To experience the country — known for offering travelers a rare glimpse of authenticity in a world full of tourist traps — visitors must “actively contribute to Bhutan’s economic, social and cultural development,” according to Corporate website For the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The tourism council said the fee would go towards upgrading infrastructure, training workers in the travel industry, preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and creating jobs that provide fair wages and working conditions.

Bhutan markets itself as the only carbon negative country in the world.

Andrew Stranowsky Photography | moment Getty Images

Sam Blyth, Chair and Founder of the Bhutan Canada Foundation Trans Bhutan Trailsaid the fee would go directly to support local communities.

“Deposited by [the] Government will then be channeled back into communities and support for health and education, which are free for all Bhutanese.”

Will passengers benefit?

Passengers will also benefit from the increased fees, according to the Tourism Council. Standards and certifications for hotels and tour operators will be revised, improving passenger experiences. Plus, Passengers will have more flexibility in planning and booking their travel.he said.

The Tourism Council notes that minimum daily package rates “had their limitations. For example, tourists often had to choose between packaged tours offered by tour operators, which provided them with a travel experience. used to control [it] … Tourists will be able to directly engage the service providers of their choice, and pay for their services accordingly.

According to the council, tour guides are no longer mandatory for all tours, but are necessary for travelers who plan to go beyond the cities of Thimpu and Paro.

Travel agencies, which can obtain visas for travelers, also collect maintenance fee payments, said Sarah Lee Shenton, marketing director of travel agency Red Savannah. “All administration is handled by our team, and our clients don’t need to make payments locally.”

Critics vs supporters

Critics say the increase in Bhutan’s tourism tax “The eliteBy closing more doors for budget travelers dreaming of visiting Bhutan.

Still others say the new policy will disproportionately affect travel agencies that cater to budget-conscious travelers.

Others criticize the timing, stating that there will be new laws. Stop passengers from coming and going. At a time when the country’s tourism industry is reeling from a 2.5-year border closure.

However, the Tourism Council of Bhutan said the pandemic provided the right time to “reset the sector”. It also hinted that it may welcome a slow return of passengers, saying, “The gradual return of tourists will allow infrastructure and services to be upgraded along with development.”

Sam Blyth said he has trekked extensively through Bhutan for the past 30 years. He is the founder of the Trans-Bhutan Trail, a non-profit company that helped revive the 250-mile long ancient trail that runs through the heart of the country.

Sam Blyth, Trans Bhutan Trail, Bhutan Tour, Bhutan Trekking’s head of government affairs for Australia and New Zealand, Wendy Munn, said she felt “there is a need for a hefty fee to filter travelers and keep things manageable.”

“For a small country, it wouldn’t be ideal for them to open up completely because you don’t want Punakha, or any of those cities, to be the next Kathmandu,” he said. “I totally understand why people would be put off by the price tag, but everyone is different and looking for their own experience and memories.”

He called the increased fees “the new normal,” referring to Venice, where Italian officials have indicated. Day trippers will need to pay between 3 and 10 euros ($3 and $10) to enter. Starting from January 2023.

Currently, the increased fee will not apply to Indian tourists, who accounted for 73 percent of all travelers to Bhutan before the pandemic. According to a report published in Bhutan in 2019.

But that too can change. Bhutan’s tourism council said the $15 daily fee for Indian travelers would remain in effect for two years, noting that it “will be revised later.”

Blyth, who started visiting Bhutan in 1988, said he doesn’t expect the new fee to negatively affect interest in Bhutan once travelers realize it.

“Tourism in Bhutan has been restructured so that travelers no longer have to book through tour operators and travel agents and can deal directly with suppliers like hotels, restaurants, guides and transportation companies,” he said. ” “These services are inexpensive and … result in an overall cost, even with the new tourism fee, that is still reasonable.”

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