Dechen Dolkar  

More than 78,000 tourists visited the country since the reopening of tourism on September 23 last year. However, the numbers fell short of the government’s target to bring in 95,000 visitors within a year. 

Around 78,879 tourists have arrived in the country from September 23 last year until August 30. The goal is to hit the pre-pandemic level by 2025. 

According to the Department of Tourism,only about 24,266 USD-paying tourists have visited the country, out of which 10,549 of them visited at the old SDF rate at USD 65. 

Around 13,717 tourists visited paying the revised SDF of USD 200 per day from September 23 last year until August 30.

Similarly, 54,613 Indian tourists visited paying SDF Nu 1,200 per day. 

Industry, Commerce and Employment Minister Karma Dorji said that it was very difficult to meet the target set for tourist arrivals in a year. “It would be very difficult to reach tourist arrivals at the pre-pandemic level by 2025 going by the current trend of arrivals.”

Lyonpo said that the government had to provide a 50 percent discount on the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for dollar-paying tourists to boost the tourism sector.

Last week, the government announced a 50 percent discount on the prevailing SDF of USD 200 for US dollar-paying tourists visiting the country. 

Another change is the 50 percent discount on the SDF rates applied to children aged between 6 and 12 years for US dollar-paying children visiting as tourists.

The new incentives will come into effect from September 1 and will remain effective until August 31, 2027.

From June, this year, the government has also provided SDF incentives for USD-paying tourists to encourage longer stays and greater exploration of all the 20 dzongkhags.

However, Lyonpo said that in a two-month period, it was found that it was not really effective in boosting tourism.

Lyonpo said that the tourism service provider mentioned that from the SDF incentive package, 70 percent of the tourists are opting for a four-plus-four policy. “Most of the tourists are willing to stay only for four to five days.”

“The data shows that most tourists are willing to pay only USD 100 per day,” Lyonpo said.   

Lyonpo said that those who have already booked under the earlier incentive packages can still visit Bhutan. However, no further bookings will be accepted from September 1 under this package.

Meanwhile, if the tourists are visiting on earlier packages and don’t want to stay for a longer duration, they can get a SDF refund for the remaining days.

Lyonpo said that for instance, if tourists are visiting under 4+4 policy and if they want to stay only for six days, tourists can get a SDF refund of USD 200.

Lyonpo said that they are hoping that the tourist arrival figures will reach the pre-pandemic level by 2027 with all these policy measures.

Lyonpo also mentioned that the SDF will remain at USD 200 per day as per the Tourism Levy Act. However, the Act does provide some flexibility for the competent authority to grant exemptions or concessional levy rates on the applicable SDF, subject to any conditions prescribed in the rules.