How much does it cost to visit Bhutan? $200 per day plus travel expenses
The Kingdom of Bhutan reopens to tourists on Friday due to a significant increase in the daily tourist tax.
Before the country closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, travelers to Bhutan had to pay a minimum daily package cost of $200-250 depending on the time of year. The rate often included the cost of hotel accommodation, meals, transportation, and guide services, as well as a mandatory $65 sustainability fee.
But in late June, Bhutan passed a Tourism Fee Bill that eliminated the minimum daily package cost in favor of raising the sustainable development fee from $65 to $200 per person per day.
Travel expenses such as hotels and meals are not covered by the fee.
The country provides discounts for families, said Raju Rai, CEO Heavenly Bhutan Travel.
“50% for children from 6 to 12 years old. [old] and… free for children under 5,” he said.
Bhutan and proponents of the new policy say the move is in line with the country’s ongoing goal of attracting “high quality, low volume” tourism.
To experience a country renowned for giving travelers a rare glimpse of authenticity in a world full of tourist traps, visitors must “actively contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of Bhutan.” Corporate website for the Bhutan Tourism Board.
The tourism board said the proceeds will go towards upgrading infrastructure, training tourism industry workers, preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and creating jobs that provide fair wages and working conditions.
Bhutan positions itself as the only carbon negative country in the world.
Andrey Stranovskiy Photography | Moment | Getty Images
Sam Blyth, Bhutan Canada Foundation Chairman and Founder Trans Bhutan Trailsaid the proceeds would go directly to helping local communities.
“The money collected [the] Then the government will be sent back to the communities and support health care and education, which is free for all Bhutanese,” he said.
Will travelers benefit?
According to the Tourism Board, travelers will also benefit from increased fees. Standards and certifications for hotels and tour operators will be revised to improve the traveler experience, the report said. A plus, travelers will have more flexibility in planning and booking their own trips– he said.
The Tourist Board notes that the minimum daily value of the package “had its limits. Tourists, for example, often had to choose from package tours offered by tour operators who controlled their travel experience. [it] … tourists will be able to directly attract the service providers they need and pay for their services accordingly.”
According to the council, guides are no longer mandatory for all trips, but they are essential for travelers who plan to hike or venture outside the cities of Thimphu and Paro.
According to Sarah-Lee Shenton, director of marketing for travel agency Red Savannah, travel agencies that can obtain visas for travelers also charge environmental fees. “All administration is done by our team and our customers don’t need to make payments on the spot.”
Critics vs Supporters
Critics argue that the increased tax on tourists in Bhutanelitist”, closing the doors for budget travelers who dream of visiting Bhutan.
More say the new policy will disproportionately impact travel agencies that cater to travelers on a budget.
Others have criticized the timing, saying the new rules discourage travelers from visiting at a time when the country’s tourism industry is recovering from a 2.5-year border closure.
However, the Bhutan Tourism Board said the pandemic provided the right time to “reboot the sector”. He also hinted that he might welcome the slow return of travelers, saying: “The gradual return of tourists will allow infrastructure and services to be gradually upgraded.”
Sam Blyth said that he has traveled extensively in Bhutan over the past 30 years. He is the founder of the Trans Bhutan Trail, a non-profit company that has helped revive the 250-mile ancient trail that runs through the center of the country.
Sam Blyth, Trans Bhutan Trail, visiting Bhutan, trekking in Bhutan
Wendy Ming, Trip.com’s head of public affairs for Australia and New Zealand, said she believes a hefty fee is needed to “filter out travelers and keep the situation under control.”
“For a small country, it wouldn’t be ideal if they opened up completely as you don’t want Punakha or any of these cities to be the next Kathmandu,” she said. “I totally understand why people are put off by the price, but everyone is different and looking for their own experiences and memories.”
She called the increased fees the “new normal”, citing Venice, where Italian authorities have indicated that tourists will have to pay €3 to €10 ($3 to $10) from January 2023.
For now, the increased fees will not apply to Indian tourists, who made up about 73% of all travelers to Bhutan before the pandemic. according to a report released by Bhutan in 2019
But that, too, can change. The Bhutan Tourism Board said the $15 daily fee paid by Indian travelers will be in effect for two years, noting that it “will be reviewed at a later date.”
Blyth, who began visiting Bhutan in 1988, said he does not expect the new fee to negatively impact interest in Bhutan once travelers realize this.
“Tourism in Bhutan has been restructured so that travelers no longer need to book through tour operators and travel agents and can deal directly with providers such as hotels, restaurants, tour guides and transport companies,” he said. “These services are inexpensive and…result in the overall cost, even with the new tourism tax, remaining reasonable.”