In the interest of wise tourism policy

What is happening?

This was the big question yesterday after the National Assembly took a U -turn decision on the Nu 1,200 sustainable development fee (SDF).

 The Assembly decided to do away with the SDF exemption for regional tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags, a decision they endorsed about two weeks ago when discussing the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill 2020. 

 The National Council who reviewed the Bill then added four more dzongkhags to be exempted from the SDF. As it stands now, the entire section on exemption is scrapped, perhaps even demanding a new name for the Bill.

 Notwithstanding what prompted the parliamentarians to completely change their decision or the manner in which it was done, the decision to not exempt any of the dzongkhag is a wise decision.

 What is the purpose of the SDF? 

Even before the issue came to the parliament, a minimal SDF was proposed both in the draft tourism policy and the pay commission’s report. This was one way to regulate and manage tourists effectively in the face of increasing tourists from the region.

 The SDF was not to stop tourists from the region, but to give those who pay the fee and come to the country to make the most of their visit through proper management. The SDF was also not to promote tourism in the dzongkhags that members of parliament sought exemptions for.

 Waiving off a small fee will not attract tourists. An attempt was made in the past. For the same reason, tourists wishing to visit eastern Bhutan were exempted the USD 65 fee or royalty. Hoteliers, tour agents and handicraft shops are still complaining of not seeing many tourists. USD 65 is more than double the Nu 1,200.

 Tourists come to visit Bhutan for mainly two reasons. Bhutan is a cultural tourism hotspot. It is our unique culture and traditions and landscapes that attract tourists. Then there are our trekking routes, secluded and preserved, clean and pristine. Culture and trekking are the main attractions.

 It is not only the Americans, Europeans or the Japanese that want to experience Bhutan and its uniqueness. Those in the region with appreciation for culture, nature and art visit Bhutan for the same reason.

There is another group, increasing every year, that finds Bhutan a cheap destination. The daily SDF will help manage mass tourism that overcrowd every tourist spot bringing in their cars, guides and sometimes food.

 We are talking about a long term tourism policy. Not a short-term to make revenue from fees. After much problems and discourse, we have realised that we need a policy to control mass tourism. From the discussions at the parliament, it seems that not many cannot look beyond their dzongkhag, their vote bank.

 If we want tourists to visit places other than Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, or Bumthang, we need good plans to attract them, starting with improving infrastructure. 

What are the attractions? What did we put back from the billions of money we made from tourism thus far to develop or leverage on the potential of other dzongkhags?

 What is happening there? This is the relevant question.

1 reply
  1. chencho dorji 2017
    chencho dorji 2017 says:

    I believe the whole exercise of SDF was farcical and waste of time. Politics seem to have over taken common sense. Partisan allegiance and voter enticement over swayed reasonable arguments and pragmatic approaches. Idealism has limitations in the face of limited choices and realistic prospects. One should consider both sides of a coin when taking major decisions. What looks like the proverbial golden egg may kill the very golden goose which delivers the egg. What if the Nu. 1200 SDF is too high and stop the regional tourist inflow to the country? What will be its impact on the small and medium hotel industry and service industry, which employs most youth in the country? What will be the larger impact on the economy if hotel owners cannot pay their mortgage and youth unemployment surges? Only time will tell! Why can’t we be a bit reasonable and just charge a simple one time fee of Nu. 1000 per person per visit to begin with and gradually increase fees according to demand? Going by present trend, this will surely bring in an additional annual revenue of Nu. 200,000,000 with further prospects of increment. Can’t we leave this decision to the Tourism Authority so that NA can devote time for more urgent matters in the country?

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