Dechen Dolkar

Nearly 10,000 tourists visited the country after the government halved the Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) to USD 100 per day per person in August, according to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment.

During the question-answer session in the National Assembly yesterday, Drametse-Ngatshang MP, Ugyen Wangdi, raised concerns that the government’s changes to the tourism tax threaten to circumvent the legislation and prove to be a source of considerable uncertainty and problems for the tourism and related sectors.

Industry, Commerce and Employment Minister Karma Dorji said that after the government announced a 50 percent discount on the prevailing SDF for US dollar-paying tourists, 9,559 tourists visited the country within a month.

“The arrival has increased by 30 percent compared to what was projected,” he said.

Similarly, around 19,763 tourists visited in the three-month period with the SDF incentive provided in June, this year.

Lyonpo said that the government has given incentives as requested by the tourism sector. “Due to these incentives, many tourists have visited for trekking, including snowman trek and trans-Bhutan trail.”

He said that the SDF USD 200 remains constant and no one has the authority to increase the SDF.

However, he said that there was one clause in the Act that gives the Department of Tourism authority to look at the discounts and promotions.

According to section 9 of the Tourism Levy Act, the competent authority may provide for an exemption or concessionary levy rate on the applicable SDF, subject to any conditions prescribed in the rules. It also states other exemptions or concessionary levy rates may be considered necessary.

Lyonpo said that if there are any changes in tourism policy in the future, the government should inform the public two years in advance, which will not create problems for the tourism sector.

“SDF charged to Indian tourists is also not reflected in the Act. However, with the authority of the department and in the goodwill of good relationship with India, the government has kept it at Nu 1,200 per night per person,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that the provisional 50 percent reduction in the SDF levy promotes vibrant opportunities for tourism and related sectors. The current SDF discount is for a specific period.

Lyonpo said that so far, the government has earned USD 22M in SDF from more than 83,000 tourists. In 2019, the government collected USD 23M as SDF from more than 300,000 tourists.