Dechen Dolkar

The government is exploring measures to reduce airfare as part of its efforts to boost tourism.

The National Assembly house discussed improving the incentive packages and other viable strategies to attract more tourists, considering the tourism industry’s ability to contribute enormously to the national exchequer.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the government is exploring the possibility of lowering airfare to attract more tourists and is in consultation with the airline companies.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that by end of this year, it is projected to receive 50,000 of USD-paying tourists which will be 60 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

In 2019, 72,199 USD-paying international tourists visited the country out of total 315,599 tourists visited the country.

The Prime Minister said that the regional tourists’ arrivals have dropped compared to pre-pandemic. In 2019,  243,400 regional tourists visited the country and this year it is projected to be around 80,000.

However, he said that the new tourism policy has benefited the country overall. Between September 22, 2022, and September 21 this year, 83,599 tourists arrived, out of which 25,892 tourists visited paying USD.

Lyonchhen said that the tourism policy can be reviewed in the future if required.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that to reach the pre-pandemic level the government has provided Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) incentives to attract tourists for longer durations from June this year and in August, the government provided additional incentive policy measures to boost the tourism sector, introducing a 50 percent reduction on SDF until September 2027.

Lyonpo said that a 50 percent reduction on the SDF will be granted on the rates applied to children aged between 6 and 12 years for USD-paying children visiting as tourists. “Which means SDF for children aged 6 to 12 will be USD 50 per person per night,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that children who have not yet turned six years can visit Bhutan without paying any SDF.

He said that other measures to boost tourism was 24-hour SDF exemption for tourists in the border towns of Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrupjongkhar for one year and the entry fees at monuments for tourists were revised to the old rates.

As of September 2023, the Department of Tourism has assessed and approved 142 one-star hotels and 60 two-star hotels. The remaining non-star hotels will be assessed by respective dzongkhags

Drametse-Ngatshang Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Wangdi, said that the government changing tourism policy frequently has created a lot of confusion in the tourism sector.

He said that the government of the day can change tourism policy at any time, citing the clause in the Act that gives the Department of Tourism authority to look at discounts and promotions.

The MP said that if the House could set a middle path SDF in the Act to boost tourism so that the government of the day cannot make any changes in future.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said that tourism sectors will have to repay their loan from next year and if tourism is not picking up, they won’t be able to do it.