Bhutan has been one of the favourite holiday destinations for Indians, not only because of its mesmerising beauty and proximity to India but also because Indian passport holders had to pay nothing as visa fees to enter the country. But if you’re planning a trip to Bhutan anytime after July 2020, be informed that it’s going to cost you a lot more money. Bhutan just ended free travel for Indian tourists and imposed a daily fee of Rs 1200!
Three countries are included in this new scheme - India, Maldives and Bangladesh.
Earlier, Indian nationals were only required to carry two valid travel documents while travelling to Bhutan and did not have to pay any entry fees. But now they will have to pay Rs 1200/day. As for children between the age of 6 and 12, a fee of Rs 600/day has to be paid and children under the age of 5 will not have to pay anything.
The Bhutanese government introduced a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) and it's being done to help them regulate the heavy tourist traffic in the country. The decision came in the light of increasing ‘regional tourists’ in the country and it was passed by Bhutan’s National Assembly as the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan, 2020.
According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan, SDF goes directly to the Bhutan government and is meant to contribute towards the social welfare of Bhutanese citizens.
In 2018, out of the total inflow of 2,74,000 tourists, over 1,80,000 were from India. With Indians not paying the visa fee, it was a huge potential revenue stream that was being ignored. And anyway should it come as a surprise that Bhutan might be concerned about the rising number of Indians? Especially considering what happened in October 2019 when an Indian biker was detained after he tried to climb up a holy site in Bhutan just to take a picture.
Even after the change in the tourism policy, looks like it is still cheaper for tourists from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives to travel to Bhutan. Other foreign tourists are already charged $65 (Rs 4,631 approx.) along with a compulsory cover charge of $250 (Rs 17,811 approx.) per day in the peak season and $200 (Rs 14,248 approx.) in the offseason. This covers accommodation, a tourist guide, food, transportation within Bhutan and non-alcoholic drinks.
Furthermore, in order to promote its eastern region (given that most tourists visit the western region), Bhutan has dropped the SDF charges for all tourists visiting 11 of the 20 districts that fall in the east.
‘Regional-tourists’ are not subjected to the minimum expenditure floor of $200/$250. So, Indians still have the flexibility of setting their travel budget, though it will now go up. Tourist operators, especially from West Bengal, are definitely not happy about it and with the Puja season in October, they feel that it will impact the heavy rush of the tourists.
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