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Bhutan to slap levy on tourists from Bangladesh, India

Business Desk | Published: 22:02, Feb 04,2020 | Updated: 13:06, Feb 05,2020

 
 

A file photo shows people visiting the ‘Gongzok Choten’ stupa that was built in memory of the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1974, in Thimphu May 21, 2012.— Reuters photo

Bhutan’s lower house of parliament on Monday passed a legislation introducing a ‘sustainable development fee’ of $16.85 (1,200 ngultrums) per day for visitors from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives from July.

The Bhutanese move came following a spike in Indian visitors that has sparked worries for the unique Himalayan kingdom’s cherished ecology, reports AFP.

A tourist usually spends $250 a day in high season — including for meals, transport, and accommodation — to visit the country of 7,50,000 people famous for putting happiness before economic growth and being carbon negative.

Bhutan introduced the ‘sustainable development fee’ for regional tourists as part of implementing ‘high value, low volume’ tourism policy following a spike in Indian visitors.

But this ‘high value, low impact’ strategy has come under strain in recent years because of a sharp rise in visitors from its giant neighbour India — who are exempt from the levy.

Indian media late last year reported that Bhutan would impose $105 in fees a day on tourists from the South Asian countries.

The country ultimately is imposing $16.85 in fees while Bhutanese tourism sector says such fees would discourage tourists.

The Bhutanese government wants to stop regional  tourists from using low-rent accommodation offered online, which has led to mushrooming of several unregulated homestays and guest houses, the TOI report said.

According to the draft policy, a total of 2,74,097 foreign individuals visited Bhutan in 2018, which is an increase of 7.61 per cent over 2017.

Of which, 2,10,730 tourists came from the regional countries with 10.37 per cent growth over 2017 while international leisure arrivals grew by 1.76 per cent to 63,367 over 2017. The number of Bangladeshi tourists was 10,450 in 2018.

Last October an Indian biker caused outrage by clambering on top of a monument to pose for a photograph.

Chairman of Bhutan’s hotel and restaurants association, Sonam Wangchuk, voiced fears that newly built budget hotels accommodating the surge in Indian visitors would now go bust. ‘We have shared our concerns and sentiments to the government. But despite that they still went ahead with the decision,’ he told AFP.

Tandi Dorji, Bhutan’s foreign minister and Tourism Council head, said that the government would consider fiscal incentives if the new fee affected the hotel sector.

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