NA committee to present recommendations on Tourism Levy Bill tomorrow

Phurpa Lhamo 

Tourists visiting Bhutan shall be liable to pay a sustainable development fund (SDF) of USD 200 per night.

This is the major change proposed in the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022,  which the Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering proposed when tabling the Bill to the National Assembly yesterday. Introducing the Bill as a money Bill, the member in charge of the Bill, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the increase in SDF and the removal of the minimum daily package rate (MDPR) were some of the major amendments in the Bill.

Tourists visiting Bhutan currently pay USD 65 as royalty per night.

Chapter 2, section 7 of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 states, “A tourist shall be liable to pay a tourism levy known as the SDF of USD 200 per night, which may be revised by the Competent Authority from time to time.”

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the SDF of USD 65 was introduced in 1991 and it has not been revised for more than three decades. The decision, he said, was arrived at after consulting experts.

The increase in the SDF, he said, was also in line with Bhutan’s ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism policy. The SDF, however, has exemption on day tourists, who do not travel beyond the first designated point, five-year-olds and below, and children between six and 12 years would receive the concessionary levy rate of 50 percent.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that SDF of USD 65 was part of the MDPR, USD 250 per day in the past. With the new Bill, the MDPR will be removed.

This change, he added, would also benefit tourists, in terms of flexibility in changing their itineraries.

Lamgong-Wangchang Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Tshering said that those in the tourism sector while welcoming the move had asked for an extension on the implementation of the Bill for smooth transitioning. He proposed delaying the implementation of the Bill by around six months.

While welcoming the new amendments, Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji questioned if a proper study on the consequence of the Bill on tourists’ arrival and on the income of those working in the tourism sector was conducted.

He said that Bill’s sections 7 and 8 give the authority to revise, exempt or provide concessionary levy rate on applicable SDF to a competent authority. This, he added, could contradict the Constitution. He cited section one of Article 14 of the Constitution, which states that taxes, fees and other forms of levies shall not be imposed or altered except by law.

After the deliberation, the Bill was referred to the Economic and Finance Committee for further review and consultation.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi also suggested that the committee look into the long-term benefits of the amendment in the Bill as a statement of objectives and reason wasn’t presented in the National Assembly.

The committee will report back to the House with its findings and recommendations on June 22.