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Visiting charges in line with tourism policy, not about revenue and receipts, beyond economics: TCB DG

Puran Gurung

Clarifying doubts that Bhutanโ€™s revised tourism system is thwarting the entry of Indian tourists to the country, Tourism Council of Bhutanโ€™s (TCB) Director General (DG) says otherwise. 

TCBโ€™s DG Dorji Dhradhul says that levying the revised Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) of Nu 1,200 for Indian tourists is in line with Bhutanโ€™s tourism policy, and for the good of both the visitors and host country.

The Director General also said that it is not an isolated case, many other nationalities also remark in a similar way. However, he asked: โ€œWhich country in the world can one enter without any conditions?โ€

The DG also expressed a similar situation, he highlights an anecdote: “I have a brother wanting to visit Antarctica, or take any devout Bhutanese wanting to visit Lumbini in Nepal but they cannot because both of them do not have enough bank balance to fund their trips.โ€ Subsequently, the DG asked: โ€œDoes this make Antarctica and Nepal also not want poor Bhutanese visitors?โ€

The tourism policy โ€˜High Value, Low Volumeโ€™ that was implemented in 1974, said the DG, however he said that by 2019, it was evident that the tourism industry got distracted and landed up chasing numbers instead of โ€˜valueโ€™. 

โ€œThis has resulted in adversely impacting the delivery of services, infrastructure, environment, tradition and culture translating into a poor experience for the visitors,โ€ he added. 

Adding to it, the DG said: โ€œValue in our tourism policy is not just about revenue and receipts, rather it includes other intangible interests that are much beyond economicsโ€. He also added: โ€œValue invariably refers to the โ€œexclusiveโ€ experience of the guest.โ€

The DG said that the revised SDF is for all tourists in pursuance of the one tourism policy and system of โ€˜High Value, Low Volumeโ€™. โ€œIn fact, we are being critiqued for the time-bound preferential SDF for our brothers and sisters from Indiaโ€. 

From September 23, the revised entry fees to monuments will be Nu 1,000 at Taktsang, Taschichho Dzong, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Memorial Chorten, Changangkha Lhakhang, Kyichu Lhakhang, Rinpung Dzong, Punakha Dzong and Chimi Lhakhang.

Pre-pandemic, and except for Taktsang, the monument entry fee charge was Nu 500. Today, all the 

Also, the same charges will be charged at eight other locations including Jampa Lhakang in Bumthang, Jangtsa Dumgseg Lhakhang and Dobji Dzong at Paro, Rinchending Goenpa and Palden Tashi Choling Shedra at Phuentsholing, Buddha Dordenma and Simtokha Dzong at Thimphu, and Trongsa Dzong.

However, children below 18 years will get a 50 percent concession on the fees and children aged five years and below will be exempted from entry fees.

The DG said that it is beyond economics, it is for improving services and facilities and protecting the sanctity of the land and giving travel experience to the visitors, and added that the revision is impacted by inflation. 

Tourism Transformation Initiative also led to many changes in readiness of the service providers, and beautifying tourist attractions in the country. 

In preparation for reopening of tourism on September 23, the Tourism Council of Bhutan will be validating and assessing the readiness of service providers. All service providers will be assessed and only validated and certified business entities will be allowed to host tourists and conduct tourism business, a TCB release added. 

The Tourism Council of Bhutan in collaboration with De-Suung inaugurated the De-Suung Takshel Programme as part of the Tourism transformation initiative on 24th July, 2022 at Taktsang base, Ramthangka. 

Several activities are being initiated to prepare for the re-opening of tourism, particularly to enhance infrastructure and services in the popular guest sites. 

The De-Suung Takshel Programme immediately began the project on enhancement of Taktsang Trail and associated sites by carrying out waste awareness and cleaning campaigns along the trail. 

The project includes improvement of infrastructure and services along the Taktsang trail to provide better experiences to the guests and locals alike. 

The Tourism Council of Bhutan will continue to collaborate with De-Suung Takshel Programme to continuously enhance tourism-related infrastructure and services such as enhancement and maintenance of trek routes and campsites, construction, maintenance and management of restrooms, and waste management.

Tourism Council of Bhutan also answered one frequently asked question: Why Is the Sustainable Development Fee being raised?

Bhutan is a carbon negative country. The country also sequesters 9.4 million tons of carbon against Its emission capacity of 3.8 million tons. With climate change, it is imperative that Bhutan continues to conserve its environment.

Based on our careful calculations, we believe the current SDF will put us in good stead to mitigate climate change and maintain carbon-neutral tourism. The SDF will be channelled towards activities that offset carbon footprint and maintain the carbon sinks in Bhutan through the replanting of trees. It will also be used to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels by, for instance, enhancing its hydropower capacity and electrifying its transport sector.

Beyond protecting the country’s natural environment, the SDF will be directed towards activities that preserve Bhutan’s built and living cultural heritage, including architecture and traditional values. These include well-managed community-led projects that promote the sharing of authentic experiences and understanding of Bhutan’s traditions and culture.

The SDF will also ensure viable, long-term economic operations, which provide socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders. This includes the development of tourism activities that help local communities thrive economically, and the creation of stable employment with fair wage and working conditions.

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