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The new SDF has not deterred tourism sector in the country

โ€ฆ๐’‰๐’๐’˜๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“, ๐’‰๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰ ๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’–๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’”๐’•๐’‚๐’•๐’†/๐’•๐’๐’–๐’“๐’Š๐’”๐’• ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’๐’๐’˜ ๐’—๐’๐’๐’–๐’Ž๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’”๐’†๐’„๐’•๐’๐’“

By Tenzin Lhaden

1841 tourists visited Bhutan paying USD 200 per night via the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) system. Among 1841 tourist, the first one to visit Bhutan paying USD 200 per night was from Switzerland who entered the country on July 13, 2022 and went back on July 18, 2022.

โ€œWithout any doubt, the increase in Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) is good for the country because it directly supports the time tested goal in tourism policy of โ€˜High Value, Low Volumeโ€™,โ€ said Dorji Dhradhul, Director General, Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The Director General added that while talking about โ€˜High Value, Low Volumeโ€™, it also means managing the tourist arrivals. Citing an instance, โ€œIf the country has only 1 hotel giving space to 100 tourists, what will happen if more than 100 tourists visited the country at the same time? Then we will have to manage for the rest of them somewhere else which is not comfortable at all for us as well as for themโ€. โ€œSo, while we want tourist to visit Bhutan, we want to make sure that whatever number we get, we are comfortable with it because if we are comfortable, we are confident that we will be able to offer exclusive good experience to our tourist,โ€ he further added.

A group of tourist from USA who came through Bhutan Best Travel Agency paid USD 200 per night and recently left Bhutan. Nidup Dorji, a proprietor of Bhutan Best Travel Agency said, โ€œBhutan is a beautiful country and everyone wants to visit it, but with increase in SDF, all of them could not afford it except for the luxury travelers.โ€

Nidup said tourist visiting the country is limiting. โ€œWe get inquiries from the tourist every day, but when we talk about new SDF they respond it to be expensive,โ€ Nidup added.

However, there is still some group of luxury travelers who made bookings to come for a vacation. Nidup is yet to receive 2 tourists on October 30 and some more luxury travelers from USA, Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia in November and December.

โ€œDue to the change in SDF, middle class tourists were unable to meet the expenses whereas the luxury travelers still do booking with us because they do not have any problem with fee hike,โ€ Nidup claimed.

Likewise, Kezang Choden running a family business-Holy Bhutan Tours and Treks said that in terms of number of tourist visiting the country, it would definitely go down.

โ€œBecause our tourists feel that it is expensive. Nonetheless, there are some tourists who say that it is good for the country as the SDF goes for the social infrastructure development and they think it is a good investment for the country,โ€ she added.

While the change in SDF structure is desolating the middle class tourist, the luxury travelers are all right with it. Choden said, โ€œThe change may take few years for the tourists to get comfortable with, but I think in future everything will get settled and we will probably be doing well. And for that, we need to focus on re-strategizing the market in order to capture the affluent group. There are many affluent groups of Chinese, Americans, and Europeans who want to visit Bhutan, thus for the business to go well, we need to capture themโ€.

Julia Sujana, tourist from Indonesia stayed in Bhutan for 6 days. In the beginning, she felt that paying USD 200 per night was expensive but when she actually visited Bhutan, she said that it was worthy enough.

โ€œBhutan was such a peaceful place where people are also friendly and are sincere while helping me and my friends. I would love to visit Bhutan again, especially Dochula and Tigers Nest (Taktshang). I like the surroundings of Buddha Point (Kuenselphodrang), we even went for a mini hike above Buddha Point. And of course, Punakha dzong is my favorite too,โ€ said Julia.

Don Chang, a tourist from Singapore also said the same thing. He said that there was a major increase in the SDF, but he had no problem with it rather he was happy enough to visit Bhutan.โ€œIf I happen to visit Bhutan again, I will probably be visiting the central and eastern part of Bhutan. And if possible I really want to visit the highland festival in Laya next year,โ€ Don Chang added.

Similarly, Rajesh, a tourist from Canada said that he did not mind paying USD 200 per night since that would only add to the quality of tourism service offered and would eliminate the crowds. โ€œI donโ€™t know whether USD 200 is right or wrong but I agree to the principle that it has to be there because devoid of it, people coming in and out would not benefit the government. Moreover, it destroys the local infrastructure and somebody has to take care of the local environment too,โ€ he asserted.

Ram Dorji Tamang, the proprietor of Book Bhutan Tour Agency said that the decision made by the government to increase the SDF was good because it supports the tourism policy of the country. Moreover, it is source of income for the state, where the government can invest in the infrastructural development of the country and wellbeing of the people.

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