To tackle down the issue of regional tourists, the government has proposed to levy a daily sustainable development fee (SDF) of US$ 16.25 per regional tourist visiting Bhutan.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering introduced the bill at the National Assembly on Thursday to amend the tourism levy Act of Bhutan, 2018.
Regional leisure tourists will be liable to pay 25% of tourism levy of US$ 65 per night halt.
This means a regional tourist has to pay around Nu 1,154 per day per person.
Regional tourists refer to nationals of India, Bangladesh and Maldives who are visiting Bhutan for leisure.
International leisure tourists are liable to pay tourism levy SDF of US$ 65 per night halt for per person.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering said that it will generate additional revenue for the government besides promoting Bhutan as high-end tourism destination with high value low volume tourism.
The chairman of hotel and restaurant association of Bhutan, Sonam Wangchuk said that the association is in support of the government’s move and regularizing the regional tourists.
However, he said that the association requests the government to re-look into the fees. Because the tourism levy US$ 16.25 for per night per person for one or a couple will be minimum. But looking at the regional tourists visiting pattern, they mostly come in large groups or as large families therefore levying an SDF will amount to a high sum.
“It will reduce the number of tourists visiting in the country and ultimately affect the hoteliers,” he said, adding that there is concern of hotel sustainability.
He said that the number of hotels in the country has drastically increased over the years.
There are more than 200 hotels in Thimphu and Paro and 90 new hotels are being constructed in Thimphu.
He said that the association has suggested that initially government could levy fees of Nu 500 per trip for regional tourists. There is also an alternative that the government could consider levying fees of US$ 16.25 per trip not per person.
“And implementation of tourism levy could start from January 2021, because we have already sold our packages for the year 2020,” he said.
The chairperson of guide association of Bhutan (GAB), Garab Dorji said that association supports the new system and to tackle mass tourism it is the right time that the system is come into place.
He said that with this regulation only premium tourists will be visiting the country and contend backpackers and low budget tourists visiting the country.
He also said that whatever they pay, tourists will also get better services.
“Guides will benefit with this regulations,” he said.
He mentioned that without any regulations previously, low budget tourists visited Bhutan, and most of them stayed in low budget hotels. “Now with the new regulations it will not affect the hotel industry.”
The executive director of association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji said they have a proposal similar to that of the hotel association.
However, he said that SDF is only one component for regional tourists and there are other components which are more important and should be taken into consideration.
According to the tourism monitor report 2018, 2018 recorded a growth of 10.37% arrivals over 2017 reaching 202,290 regional arrivals. 94.83% of total regional arrivals were from India followed by arrivals from Bangladesh (5.17%) and Maldives (0.002%).
The environment and climate change committee will review the bill and present it to the House for deliberations on February 3.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu