The government has decided to provide concessions on the tourism sustainable development fee to encourage longer stays and allow all the 20 dzongkhags to reap the benefits of tourism.

The incentives, such as 4+4, 7+7, and 12+18, according to those in the tourism business, make sense even if they will have to convince tourists to stay longer in Bhutan. This essentially reduces the fee by 50 percent, particularly for those interested in the 4+4 or 7+7 options. In other words, if a tourist visits for eight days, they only pay USD 100 per day,   a 50 percent discount.

The change, even if it is seen as a result of poor decision-making, will help the tourism industry and related sectors. Since the revised SDF was introduced, many tour companies have struggled to attract tourists.  The USD 200 per day per tourist was considered an expensive fee. With the same amount, tourists say they could visit two to three countries. While the government’s decision on incentives may be seen as indecisiveness, the reality on the ground is different, and we acknowledge it. We make decisions every day, but good decisions are made by learning from experience and having the courage to change course. 

Receiving criticism for undoing previous decisions should be welcomed if we carefully consider the pros and cons.

Levying the same SDF on guests of the government, civil society organisations, and promoters and investors was seen as an attempt to discourage visitors. Our development partners, donors, and international agencies in the country who are here to help us were unhappy when their officials, some of whom made generous donations were asked to pay the SDF. It is not shared, but some were shocked when the government was concerned about USD 200 per day and not the millions spent on our developmental activities.

We will graduate from the club of least developed countries by the end of the year. The lesson we have learned is that we are not ready. We cannot fulfill our plans and aspirations without grants, soft loans, or donations. We do not have the expertise to even build a concrete house, and many of our skilled people are waiting for visas to work or live abroad.

In the capital city, we cannot find a good plumber or mason. If we can find one, they are often from Assam or Falakata in India. We will need to invite experts to train our manpower or skilled individuals to complete a wall. Waiving the SDF for non-tourists, therefore, is a good decision.

The repercussions of the new SDF were felt beyond the tourism industry. Decision-makers were the first, we surmise. It is never too late to learn from experiences.  The decision is welcome, and the government need not lose face by changing its stance.