Tourism: Bhutan sets reopening date, increases tourist tax

Bhutan will reopen to international tourists from September for the first time since the pandemic broke out more than two years ago, officials said on June 30, as the tiny Himalayan kingdom is searching how to restore its economy.

Located between China and India, a country of natural beauty and ancient Buddhist culture, took drastic first steps and banned tourism, a major source of income, in March 2020 when the school The first case of COVID-19 was detected there.

A constitutional monarchy with fewer than 800,000 inhabitants has reported 60,000 fewer infections and just 21 deaths, but the $3 billion economy has shrunk in the past two fiscal years, pushing many into poverty.

The Tourism Board of Bhutan (TCB) said tourists will be allowed to enter from September 23.

However, they will be charged a Sustainability Fee of $200 per tourist per night, up from $65 charged over three decades. Officials say the new fee will offset the carbon impact of tourists.

“COVID-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can best be structured and run… while keeping our carbon footprint low,” said Tandi Dorji, President of TCB and the country’s Foreign Minister, said in a statement.

Authorities say Bhutan has revised its standards for service providers, such as hotels, guides, tour operators and drivers.

Tourism employs 50,000 people and contributed an average of about $84 million annually in the three years before the pandemic in direct foreign exchange.

Bhutan opened its doors to high-class tourists in 1974 when it welcomed 300 visitors. The number spiked to 315,600 in 2019, up 15.1% from a year earlier, TCB data showed.

Tour operators say travelers will be free to choose an operator and plan their own itinerary, whereas previously they could only choose from packages offered by the operator.

Sangay Phuntso, who runs Always Bhutan Tourism in the capital Thimphu, said the fee might deter some visitors but not the more affluent.

“Those who can spend are welcome,” Phuntso said. “We are very happy.”


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