Dechen Dolkar 

The Department of Tourism (DoT) has reported a significant boost in tourism revenue with USD 13.5 million earned from the Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) in the past eight months. This revenue surge comes as the tourist arrival data for April exceeded expectations by 47 percent.

According to the DoT, a total of 52,173 tourists visited Bhutan from September 23, 2022, to May 10, 2023. Among these visitors, 32,517 were Indian guests, paying Nu 1,200 per person, per night, while 19,656 were international guests who paid USD 200 per night.

In April 2023, 13,769 tourists arrived in Bhutan, an increase of 87 percent compared to March 2023, which recorded 7,385 arrivals. Additionally, between May 1st and 10th, the country welcomed 4,811 guests, indicating a positive trend in tourist numbers.

Despite the encouraging growth, it should be noted that the figures remain below pre-pandemic levels, and the DoT predicts that Bhutan’s foreign tourist arrivals may not fully recover until around 2025. Several factors contribute to this slower recovery, including the risk of a recession in major economies, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, geopolitical tensions in East Asia, and the persistently high cost of living in key source markets.

Director General of DoT, Dorji Dhradhul, emphasised the need for tourism businesses to adapt to these challenging circumstances. He advised operators to develop strategies for penetrating new markets, conducting thorough market research, and creating products that cater to the needs of discerning, mindful, and high-value visitors.

In comparison to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the number of SDF-paying tourists from January to April 2023 was only 38 percent less. Out of the total 19,656 guests during this period, 9,740 paid the old SDF rate of USD 65 per night, while 9,916 paid the new SDF rate of USD 200 per night.

The Department of Immigration said that the reported arrival data do not include official guests, individuals attending meetings, conferences, exhibitions, or visitors invited by government agencies.

Between January and April 2023, a total of 26,465 tourists arrived in Bhutan. Although this figure reflects a 68 percent decline from the 2019 figures and a 63 percent decline from 2018, it demonstrates a gradual recovery in tourism.

From January to April 2023, the number of guests paying the new SDF rate surpassed those paying the old rate. In January, 253 guests paid the old SDF rate, while 468 opted for the new rate. Similarly, in February, 185 guests paid the old rate compared to 574 guests who chose the new rate. March saw 1,059 guests paying the old SDF rate, while 1,689 guests paid the new rate. In April, 2,027 guests paid the old rate, while 2,909 guests paid the new rate.

The top 10 source markets for Bhutan’s tourism from September 23, 2022, to May 10, 2023, were India, America, Malaysia, the UK, Vietnam, Singapore, Germany, Australia, Canada, and France.