… it applies to all tourists visiting for 24 hours

Dechen Dolkar  

Tourists visiting Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrupjongkhar towns for 24 hours need not pay Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) beginning April 14.

The cabinet secretariat announced it yesterday. The waiver will be enforced for a year.

The notification states that the SDF  waiver will only apply for tourists who do not travel beyond the designated zones of border towns. However, SDF will apply for visitors who travel beyond the designated zone of border towns.

Tourists will be charged SDF if they go beyond Gurung Basti in Samtse, and beyond Rinchending Checkpost in Phuentsholing. The designated zone in Gelephu is at Aipoli Bridge and Pinchinna checkpost in Samdrupjongkhar.

The notification also states that the user fee of Nu 10 per person at the Phuentsholing pedestrian terminal will be levied only on entry from April 14. The user fee will not be levied on exit.

The notification stated that from the experiences and lessons learnt during the pandemic, it became imperative for the government to ascertain that the systems and operations on the ground evolve to serve the purpose with precision.

It also stated that the impacts are yet to be felt, and disruptions evident as we go through the critical process of change.

“This does not mean we retract our path. As we move ahead, we will keep reviewing, improvising and professionalising the systems to arrive at the standards we aspire for Bhutan,” the notification stated.

The Economic and Finance Committee of the National Assembly during the recent parliament session had recommended a similar SDF exemption for border towns. The committee recommended waiving SDF for casual visitors to border towns provided they do not halt more than a certain number of days as prescribed in the rules as the business in border towns are losing.

During the discussion in the house in November last year, most of the members in the house supported the recommendation. However, the speaker decided to skip the voting on the recommendation.

During the tourism council meeting last year, the stakeholders proposed a one-night SDF waiver for tourists staying in border towns without travelling beyond the designated point. The council endorsed the proposal.

The move, according to the notification signed by Cabinet Secretary Kesang Deki, comes after the government’s recent decision to keep the border gates open for 24 hours.

Phuenstsholing Thrompon, Uttar Kumar Rai said that it will have some positive impacts for the business. However, it is difficult to say for the long run, as many would not be coming only for one night.

One of the hoteliers in Samdrupjongkhar, said that the government’s decision seems positive. However, he said that most of the tourists are reluctant for a day visit since the documentation procedure at the border gate is rigid.

“Especially, Indian visitors come with families and large groups. When they cannot produce a birth certificate of an infant, the visitors cannot enter and they have to go back,” a hotelier said, adding that there should be some kind of consideration for such cases.

He also said that there were few cases, where the visitors driving their own car had to return since they didn’t have original documents of the vehicle.