… waives SDF for official guests of govt, CSO and FDI promoters, and investors 

Dechen Dolkar

The cabinet approved three different Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) incentives for USD-paying tourists to encourage longer stays and greater exploration of all the 20 dzongkhags.

The incentives will apply for bookings made after June 01, 2023, and will be valid for stays in Bhutan between June 01, 2023 and December 31, 2024.

According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), the SDF incentive includes 4+4, 7+7 and 12+18.

According to DoT’s press release, tourists can pay the SDF of USD 200 per night per person for the first four nights, and receive up to four additional nights without the daily levy. Similarly, tourists can pay the SDF of USD 200 per night per person for the first seven nights, and receive up to seven additional nights without the daily levy.

The third incentive is that tourists can pay the SDF of USD 200 per night per person for 12 nights, and receive up to 18 days without the daily levy.

DoT officials said that 12+18 incentives could be applicable for those tourists who want to go trekking.

As per the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022, the SDF is exempt for children of 5 years and below; and there is a concessionary levy rate of 50% for children between the ages of 6-12 years. Anyone aged 12 and above pay the full SDF rate. The same long-stay SDF incentives outlined above can be applied to US dollar-paying children.

“These SDF incentives are designed to encourage longer stays in the country,” said the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Lyonchhen said that in forming these options, they have listened to the feedback of the industry, recommendations of ABTO and other stakeholders, while also balancing the original vision behind the revisions to the tourism strategy to ensure that the focus was on high value, low volume tourism.

Visitors will also soon be given another opportunity to meaningfully contribute to Bhutan’s progress. Each visitor will be offered the chance to plant a tree towards Bhutan’s goal of one million new trees, helping to maintain the kingdom’s carbon-negative status and exceptional forest cover. Tree saplings will be provided to guests who wish to plant them during their stay in Bhutan, the press release stated.

DOT Director General Dorji Dhradhul said that these exclusive incentives were an opportunity for friends from around the world to experience more, travel further and stay longer – and by doing so, to actively participate in progress and preservation that benefits Bhutanese citizens and the wider world.

“We hope that with these incentives, together with the recent revision of the monument fees, the 24-hour SDF waiver for border towns, and other measures, Bhutan will be a more accessible destination for a wider range of guests,” the DG said.

The department stated that these offers do not mean lowering the SDF fixed at USD 200 per person per night.

The department also stated that the incentives cannot be combined with the SDF waiver for border towns.  ”So, if guests wish to visit the border towns before or after receiving the SDF incentive, the guests will need to apply for another visa to do so.”

The department stated that tourists who have already booked their trips to Bhutan can take advantage of the new SDF incentives. They will need to cancel their existing visa application and re-apply.

DoT stated that guests will forfeit their original visa fee (USD 40) and will be required to pay the USD 40 visa fee again when they process their new visa application. “The SDF that they have already paid can be used when applying again.”


SDF waived for Non-tourists

The government has waived SDF for non-tourists including foreign students including monks and nuns undergoing a regular study programme or exchange programme in a government-approved academic institution, direct dependents of foreign workers in professional category and expatriate trader holding a valid business license and trader card and their direct dependent.

The government has also waived SDF for diplomats or officials on non-resident Mission and International Organizations (MIOs) including all resident Embassies, corporate offices, consulates, regional and international organisations and their spouses and children.

The SDF is waived for volunteers of international organisations based in Bhutan, officials and guests of government, civil society, religious organisations, corporations and business entities.

Participants of official meetings hosted by government, CSOs and international agencies will no longer have to pay the SDF.

Similarly, promoters or investors, board directors, technical or managerial personnel of FDI companies including potential investors will also not have to pay the SDF. They can also bring their direct dependents, adult children, parents and parents-in-laws of promoters and investors of established FDI in Bhutan without paying SDF.

Press trips and familiarisation trips and crew of international flights flying to Bhutan will also not be required to pay the SDF.

Ambassadors or diplomates, Consul general, heads of international agencies in Bhutan can also invite their personal guests without paying SDF.

Similarly, residents of MIOs and professionals working or foreign students studying in Bhutan can invite their parents, parents-in-laws and adult children.