Bhutan lowers fees for longer-staying tourists

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Bhutan will lower the nightly fees it charges tourists who stay more than four days, in an attempt to boost visitor numbers that are still a fraction of the level before the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the scenic Himalayan kingdom reopened its borders for tourists in September last year after more than two years of pandemic closure, it raised its “Sustainable Development Fee” to $200 per visitor per night from the $65 it had charged for about three decades.

Authorities say the SDF is designed to attract wealthy tourists by discouraging budget travelers who spoil the environment. The funds maintain the pristine landscape and off-set the carbon footprints left by visitors.

Bhutan bans mountain climbing to preserve the sanctity of its peaks, and draws only a fraction of the tourists that visit nearby Nepal.

Effective this month until the end of 2024, tourists paying the daily fees for four days will be allowed to stay an extra four days. Those paying SDF for 12 days can stay for a full month.

“If more tourists stay longer in Bhutan tourism can help our economy to grow faster,” said Dorji Dhradhul, director general of the Department of Tourism.

The incentive applies only to tourists who pay in dollars, and not to visitors from neighboring India who pay in rupees.

Dhradhul said Bhutan wanted to gradually raise the contribution of tourism to 20% to its $3 billion economy from about 5% now. He did not give any timeline.

Dhradhul said more than 47,000 tourists had visited Bhutan since January and the country was on track to achieve its “modest” goal of receiving 86,000 visitors by the end of the year, compared to about 315,600 in 2019, before the pandemic.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Peter Graff)