Jigmi Wangdi and Dechen Dolkar 

The government is planning to introduce incentives for tourists to visit the country, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at a monthly meeting with the private sector last Friday.

The meeting was attended by tour operators, contractors, and entrepreneurs working in various fields.

“We want to give promotional discounts on the sustainable development fee (SDF) for tourists who want a longer stay in the country if they have paid for the initial days,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that this was also being considered for tourists who visit Bhutan for trekking events such as the Snowman Trek.

“If the visitors pay for the first 10 days, we can allow them to continue the trek without paying the SDF for the remaining days,” Lyonchhen said.

As Bhutan is being promoted as a family destination, Lyonchhen said that SDF for tourists under the age of 18 could be waived. Currently, the SDF exemption is for children of 5 years and below and a concessionary levy rate of 50 percent for children from 6 to 12 years.

Lyonchhen also highlighted the need for waiving the SDF for expatriate workers who come to Bhutan.

An individual from the tourism sector said that they require foreign experts who can come to Bhutan and help enhance the capacities of their employees.“The problem arises with the immigration laws. Even if we want to bring in an ex-pat who can train our staff or workers, the immigration policies cause major obstructions. There are too many red tapes,” the representative said.

Minister for Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE), Karma Dorji earlier told Kuensel that the government was looking into possibilities of exempting SDF for consultants for UN agencies, civil society, and for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions tourism (MICE). For instance, the speaker for MICE will be exempted from SDF.

As per the Tourism Levy Act 2022, the government cannot waive the SDF USD 200 per night for tourists. However, Lyonpo 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 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 the promotion would be valid until December 31, 2024.

Currently, the FDI promoters whose companies are not established in the country, official guests of the government, civil society, diplomates, and MICE tourism are not exempted from the SDF.

Lyonpo Karma Dorji said that if somebody is coming for FDI, the CEO and his dependent and board members should be exempted from the SDF. For instance, diplomates and their spouses.

Kuensel learnt that the Department of Tourism’s proposal to the Cabinet was to exempt SDF for five days tentatively. For instance, if a tourist stays for 11 days, the individual has to pay SDF only for six days.

For trekking, as per the proposed triple seven policy, tourists will pay SDF of USD 200 for the first seven days, 50 percent SDF for the second seven days, and the SDF will be exempted for the following seven days.

The Cabinet has directed the department to re-look into it again.

The proposal was based on previous data on tourists’ length of stay, most Asians stay for an average of five days, and European and American tourists stay for seven days on average.

Another concern raised at Lyonchhen’s monthly meeting with the private sector was the need to improve the payment gateway for tourists. The current lack of proper payment methods greatly hampers the mode of payment for tourists.

“We are working on this as well. We cannot promote our ‘High Value’ tourism if there are such challenges for the visiting guests,” Lyonchhen said.

The private firms producing local products said that restricting goods for imported can help promote local products.

The forum with the Prime Minister is conducted every month as a platform for the private sector to discuss issues the sector is facing with the government.