Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) has received 19 applications for refund of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF).

Tour operators who have already taken groups in the six eastern dzongkhags after the SDF wavier came into effect from November 16 last year can contact TCB to process for refund.

SDF waiver for tourist visiting the six eastern dzongkhags is expected to promote tourism in the east.

Tourism Levy Exemption Act of Bhutan 2018 states that waiver applies to international leisure tourist travelling to the eastern circuit. Act will expire on December 31, 2020.

International leisure tourist refers to the nationals of countries other than Bangladesh, Maldives, and India paying minimum daily package and taking a trip to the main destination outside his or her usual environment for less than a year for holiday and leisure.

SDF is a fee of USD 65 levied per person per night halt. The amount is included in the minimum daily package rate (MDPR), which is the minimum amount that has to be paid per person per night halt.

With the exemption, the tourist visiting the six eastern dzongkhags will now have to pay only USD 135 during the lean season and USD 185 during the peak season. The exemption of royalty will be implemented for three years.

Records with the TCB show that about 570 tourists visited Lhuentse, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjongkhar, Trashiyangtse, and Trashigang between November 16, 2017 and February 15 this year.

However, TCB officials said that there could be a duplication of the counts.

Of the total tourists who visited during the period, Mongar had the highest with 178 visitors. Trashigang and Samdrupjongkhar followed with 158 and 127 tourists respectively. Pemagatshel had only 14 tourists, the lowest.

It is unlawful to avail of exemption in contravention to the purpose mentioned in the Act, fails to pass the exemption benefit to international leisure tourists or fails to submit the required supporting document or submit a false document.

The Act states that the person committing the offence has to pay tourism levy for the exempted duration of the stay and is liable for fines as per the Rules and Regulations.

The Act also states that TCB shall frame Rules and Regulations for the effective implementation of the Act.

An international leisure tourist who fails to visit eastern circuit due to unforeseeable circumstances (force majeure) will be exempted from payment of tourism levy.

Force majeure refers to an event that is beyond the control mainly caused by natural calamities including but not limited to roadblocks, cancellation of flights etc. as a result of which travel itinerary cannot be followed.

Dechen Tshomo