Staff Reporter   

Bhutan will reopen its borders to tourists on September 23, 2022, the Tourism Council of Bhutan announced yesterday.

A press release from the council stated that the reopening would be with a renewed focus on the sustainability of the sector. “At the centre of the sector’s revamp are three areas – upgrading infrastructure and services, the elevation of tourists’ experiences, and maintaining carbon-neutral tourism.”

Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan and Foreign Minister, Dr Tandi Dorji said, “Covid-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically but socially as well while keeping carbon footprints low. In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.”

Among the changes are revised standards for service providers, including hotels, guides, tour operators, and drivers, which will soon be subjected to a more robust certification process before they can engage tourists. TCB stated that employees will be required to participate in skilling and reskilling programmes, where necessary, to boost service quality.

Amid the intensifying threat of climate change, according to TCB, Bhutan will also be stepping up its efforts to keep the country carbon-negative and a green destination for tourists. The nation is keenly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as frequent rain and floods.

“As such, it will be raising the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of USD 65 per person per night for tourists to USD 200, which will go towards activities that promote carbon-neutral tourism and build a more sustainable tourism sector,” the TCB stated. This includes offsetting the carbon footprint of tourists and upskilling workers in the sector. “Indian tourists will pay a previously stipulated fee, which will be revised at a later date.”

At the same time, the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) will be removed. The rate refers to the minimum sum paid by all tourists for an all-inclusive package tour to Bhutan. The MDPR has in the past often limited the tourist experience, as travellers could only choose packaged tours provided by tour operators. “Going forward, tourists will have the flexibility to engage service providers directly and pay for their services accordingly,” the TCB stated.

The fee changes came into effect on June 20.

The revamp of the tourism sector comes amid a widespread transformation across the country, from the civil service to the financial sector. The changes are geared towards developing Bhutan’s human capital by equipping the population with more proficient skills, knowledge, and experiences.

“Our strategy for the revamp of the tourism sector brings us back to our roots, of ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism, where we meet the needs of tourists while protecting our people, culture, values, and environment,” TCB’s director general Dorji Dhradhul said.

“Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese. Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations,” he said.