Bhutan: Tourism

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Minimum daily package

2020: applicable to India, Bangladesh, Maldives as well

Tamaghna Banerjee & Roshan Gupta, Dec 23, 2019: The Times of India

Bhutan and South Asian tourists, As in 2018
From: Tamaghna Banerjee & Roshan Gupta, Dec 23, 2019: The Times of India

KOLKATA/ SILIGURI: Next-door neighbour Bhutan could soon be out of reach for Indian tourists on a budget. Sometime in 2020, the Himalayan kingdom proposes to extend to regional tourists — those from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives — the mandatory “minimum daily package” of $250 (around Rs 17,700) that is currently applicable only to foreigners.

While the price includes a $65 “sustainable development fee”, visa charges, 3-star accommodation, meals, intra-Bhutan transport, camping equipment and the services of a guide, travel operators fear the cost of spending a day in Bhutan would still be higher than what most Indian tourists can afford.

Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), said the proposal was in line with his country’s high-value-low-impact tourism policy. He did not say if and when the rules would take effect. “This policy draft has been under preparation for four years,” said a source associated with Bhutan tourism.

“At present, regional tourists have to pay Rs 50 to Rs 500 a person for every entry to different sightseeing points. If the rule changes, the sustainable development fee alone would cost a family of five Rs 23,000 a day. That is quite high for budget travellers, who constitute 65% to 70% of the Indian visitors to Bhutan,” said Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of the Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network.

Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of Travel Agents Federation of India, said Bhutanese authorities were yet to notify the change, but the buzz in tourism circles was that it would be implemented next year. “About 90% of Indian tourists to Bhutan take the road route to enter the country through Phuentsholing, bordering Jaigaon in West Bengal. This is possible because Indians currently don’t require a visa. If Bhutan makes the minimum daily package applicable to Indian tourists, too, I’m afraid it will no longer be an affordable destination,” he added.

Short-hop tourists, especially large groups visiting Darjeeling or Sikkim, account for the most Indian visitors to Bhutan. They stay a maximum of two-three days, often sharing rooms and spending little on the frills. The rules governing tourism in Bhutan were approved in 1972, paving the way for the first group of 287 official tourists to visit in 1974. Since then, Bhutan’s tourism sector has followed a unique high-value-low-volume principle, consistently seeking to ensure cautious growth within the capacity of its physical, socio-cultural and natural environment.

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