Is the tourism industry recovering? Yes, if going by the numbers. More than 2,000 tourists arriving in four days for a festival is an indication that with the right policy and pricing, there are tourists wanting to visit Bhutan.

It is the festive period in Bhutan. Paro Tshechu, those in the tourism industry, say is a good indication. With the tshechu heralding spring and tourist season in Bhutan, the arrivals at the tshechu is a positive signal. 

Tourism is important for Bhutan and it will remain so for a long time to come. Tourism is a good source of the scarce convertible currency. 

In fact, without tourism, there are no means to replenish the dwindling dollar reserve. A fall in tourism arrivals can have repercussions on other sectors. For instance, we have a moratorium on the import of vehicles, including electric vehicles, because the government does not have enough  convertible currency to let private businesses import from third countries. 

The improved arrivals could be attributed to the slash in the sustainable development fee. With the fees reduced to USD 100 a day, visiting Bhutan has become affordable to many.

 For some, it is still a huge fee considering that many destinations are far cheaper and facilities better. USD 100 a day is still expensive for tourists or backpackers who need not pay visa fees or  stay in dorms and spend about USD 30 a day.

Our tourism policy is clear. Even with a reduction in the SDF, we are sticking to the high value low volume policy. 

The allied industry like hotels, hiring services, and local products could benefit from increased volume, but how much value they bring is the question.

If halving the fee for the dollar-paying tourist was intended to revive the industry, it has worked.  In February this year, 5,767 tourists visited the country. Between March 1 and 24, the number nearly doubled to 10,782, surpassing the 2023 figures by almost 50 percent even though the month has not yet ended. Last year, only 7,385 tourists visited Bhutan in March.

The discount, many in the industry say, was the middle path. 

It will, as of now, remain effective until August end, 2027.This is more than three years from now, enough time to relook at our policies to increase or reduce the SDF. 

As of now, the USD 100 per day per tourist is working.

Meanwhile, what is noteworthy is the increasing number of tourists from neighbouring India. 

Even with a daily SDF of Nu 1,200, tourist arrivals from India are on the rise. In fact, in February, 59 percent of the tourists were from India. 

India is a big market even if a small percent of the 1.4 billion people visit Bhutan. 

With one of the fastest developing economies and an increasingly growing group of population with huge disposable income, Bhutan could be one of the favourite tourist destinations for our friends in India.

We can expect more after the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who emphasised on “People to People” relations between the two countries.