Border forces on alert as Bhutan tourism turns upmarket overnight

Security forces on the Bhutan border are on alert ahead of the kingdom opening its borders for tourists from September 23. Bhutan shares a 699 km border along Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Tourist Council of Bhutan has decided to certify only 3 star+ hotels and homestays and budget hotels have been asked to upgrade as TCB wants to promote Bhutan as a high-end tourist destination.

Bhutan has been grappling with heavy tourist influx from India, Maldives and Bangladesh, who tap 'budget hotels' and more than 600 budget hotels fear shutdown, which could lead to friction as hundreds would lose their livelihood. The border guarding force, Sashastra Seema Bal, along with local administration has flagged the friction areas and is on the alert, Union home ministry officials said.

"Hotels are facing shortage of wheat flour and maida after India restricted export of wheat while many Jaigaon-based importers are protesting over a Royal Monetary Authority recent order which stated Bhutan's exporters have to receive money from residents in India as INR and through the banking channel," an official citing reports said.

Among other crops, potato is the most important cash crop of Bhutan and India is the top export destination. India has an exemption on potato import restriction just for Bhutan from July 4, till June 2023. "After a gap of more than two years, Bhutan is allowing tourists. It is expected that a large number of foreign and local tourists will use land routes. SSB has been sensitised to work with local administration and Bhutanese counterparts," a North Block official said.

Bhutan also plans to introduce changes and revisions of standards for service providers such as guides, tour operators and drivers.

For the Sustainable Development Fee, the country will raise $200 (₹15,778) per person per day while tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives will be charged $15 (₹1,200) per day. As per TCB, the funds will go towards activities that will lead to carbon-neutral tourism and building a more sustainable tourism sector. This includes offsetting the carbon footprint of tourists and upskilling workers in the sector.