Bhutan doesn’t want poor Indian visitors? nation opens border with hefty sustainable development fee

Is Bhutan politely saying ‘Indians aren’t welcome’? The Himalayan nation recently announced the opening of its borders for tourists from September 23 after two years, but with a hefty levy.

Called sustainable development fee (SDF), it is $15 (Rs 1,200) per day per Indian. This is in addition to the expenses of travelling, hotel bookings etc.

Bhutan apparently wants to experiment with ‘high value, low volume’ tourism.

While tourist hotspots elsewhere, too, are looking at introducing a daily tax on their post-pandemic arrivals, Bhutan’s levy is said to be the highest globally.

For example, Venice is considering a daily surcharge of $3-$10 per day from next year.

“The new approach is aimed at elevating the travel experience in Bhutan and the industry through fair and healthy competition,’’ the Tourism Council of Bhutan claimed.

But the travel sector in India read it differently.

“Bhutan is politely saying ‘Indians are not welcome’.

The SDF has come as a sharp blow for tourists wishing to travel from India.

The cost of airfare has doubled from Rs 23,000 to over Rs 48,000 as there are no group airfare discounts, no discount for students, no royalty waiver, no family tours,” an expert in the travel sector said.

Till now, there was no levy on Indians visiting Bhutan. They just needed any identity proof not necessarily a passport to enter the country.

In June 2020, Bhutan did impose a surcharge on visiting Indians.

It amounted to 12% of the $65 that was being levied on people of other nationalities. By then the Covid lockdown kicked in and Bhutan shut itself up.