Dechen Dolkar

The government intends to bolster tourism services, proposing enhancements like streamlined payment gateways and quicker Visa processing times.

Presently, Visa approvals take five working days, but tour operators report delays on weekends and public holidays, hampering tourist influx.

Some operators express concern over the wait times, particularly for walk-in tourists extending their trips from neighbouring countries such as India and Nepal. This delay, he said, dissuades potential visitors, resulting in decreased arrivals. 

The government has pledged to increase the annual tourist arrival number to 300,000, of which 50 percent is expected to be dollar-paying tourists.

Last year the country welcomed more than 103,000 tourists, exceeding the projected tourism arrival target.

However, 70 percent of these visitors were from India, each contributing an SDF of 1,200 rupees (INR). The remaining 30 percent consisted of international guests who paid the full SDF.

However, to further boost tourist arrivals in the country, some of the services still need to be improved.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the immigration department has been asked to be available 24/7, working in three shifts. Adequate staffing for this endeavour has been arranged, he added.

Another challenge for tourists is the payment gateway. While visa payments have improved, spending money locally remains restricted. Most tourists prefer digital transactions, affecting businesses like handicraft sellers.

To address this, the Prime Minister said that the government plans to collaborate with the central bank to enable credit card usage within the country, easing financial transactions for tourists.

Foreign Minister DN Dhungyel said that Bhutanese embassies and consulates have been asked to promote tourism abroad and that increased marketing funding is being sought to attract more visitors.

Employment Minister Namgyal Dorji outlined a phased approach to tourism growth, aiming for 300,000 visitors annually with a focus on dollar-paying tourists—with 50 percent of dollar-paying tourists and in the second and third years, 60 percent of total tourists are expected to be dollar-paying.

And, more important perhaps, the government commits to reviewing tourism policies, including the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), to encourage sectoral growth.

The revised policy will delineate SDF utilisation, emphasising investments in education, environmental conservation, and tourism infrastructure.