Bhutan Ends Free Entry for Regional Tourists including India
Bhutan has ended decades of free entry to its regional tourists including India, Bangladesh and the Maldives visiting Bhutan. The Bhutan government in Thimphu has declared to levy a daily INR 1200 ($17) for the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) which will be effective from July 2020. This daily SDF fee is for the “regional tourists” from India, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. The SDF meant to help the government deal with a rapidly increasing number in tourist traffic, which is seeking to regulate through a new tourism strategy. This affects the tour packages to be prepared for Bhutan for its regional tourists, although this new policy does not affect the foreign tourists visiting Bhutan.
Recently, the new decision in Bhutan was passed by the National Assembly as a “Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan”. The SDF is comparatively lower than the charge for foreign tourists which is $65 per day, who are also charged a compulsory flat “Cover Charge” of $250 per day.
In 2018, the total number of tourists visiting Bhutan was 274,000; the Tourism Council figured that about 2, 00,000 were from the region, of which about 180,000 were from India. The other foreign tourists are paying $250 as a minimum charge which includes $65 a day as the SDF fee as well as $ 40 visa fee, in contrast, tourists from India, the Maldives, and Bangladesh had so far traveled with free entry and there were able to cross the borders without visas which are now set to be changed.
However, there are some criteria for charges of SDF fees for the tourist. According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan, if the tourist visits Bhutan’s eastern region, the government has decided to drop the SDF fee for tourists visiting 11 of 20 total districts that fall in the east from Trongsa to Trashigang. Children from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives under the age of 5 will not have to pay the SDF and those between 6 and 12 years old will be required to pay 50% of the total SDF Charges. The officials claimed that the new policy of charging SDF fees for the regional tourists of India, the Maldives and Bangladesh is to provide better facilities and services for themselves. However, the new policy might impact the newly-built budget hotels accommodating budget travelers from the region and they are afraid of if the new policy could hit their business.
This news is based on the recent decision passed by the government of Bhutan in Thimphu. We will keep you updated if there are any other updates are available. Stay tuned!