Phurpa Lhamo 

The sustainable development fee (SDF) of Nu 1,200 for regional tourists and USD 65 for international tourists will not be imposed while the tourist is in quarantine, but will only apply to time spent in the country after the quarantine period is completed.

This decision was made after the Office of Attorney General (OAG) interpreted the Tourism Levy Act 2020.

Tourism Council of Bhutan’s director general, Dorji Dhradhul, said the Act was silent on the topic until now because the pandemic or Covid-19 wasn’t foreseen. “After the OAG made its clarification, the Cabinet Secretariat communicated to TCB that SDF wouldn’t be imposed while the tourist is in quarantine.”

He explained the SDF would be levied once the tourist completes 14 or 21 days in quarantine.

The need for interpretation on imposing the SDF during the quarantine period surfaced after the first tourist visited the country in August of this year.

Meanwhile, the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) made a presentation to the Economic Affairs Committee this month, suggesting that the SDF be waived, and to introduce a one-time tourist visa tariff.

ABTO and HRAB members said this move would incentivise the tourists to increase their length of stay, which would generate benefits for the country’s economy.

The suggestion was to help achieve the 2019 tourist arrival target.   

Dorji Dhradhul said that while TCB agreed to attract more tourists, as the sector was affected by the pandemic, there were other means than waiving the SDF to attract tourists.

He said that in the past, the SDF waiver was implemented for six eastern dzongkhags to attract more tourists to the east. “But there was no significant impact.”

The director general also said the minimum daily package rate (MDPR) of USD 200 for the lean season as compared to USD 250 for peak season was also implemented to attract more tourists during the lean season. “This again has not made a significant impact.”

He said TCB’s stand is to preserve Bhutan’s brand, in which the SDF and the MDP were important elements. “The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasted that world tourism will not reach the 2019 level until 2025. They have predicted that.”