Bhutan welcomes visitors after almost two and a half years

28 international guests arrived paying the new SDF of USD 200, whereas 48 arrived paying the previous SDF of USD 65

During the launch of Bhutan’s new tourism brand on September 22, 2022, Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering had said that as Bhutan opens, the country is officially opening her hearts and doors to visitors and will ensure that guests are offered the best of experiences and hospitality. And as Bhutan reopened yesterday (September 23, 2022), the 120 people, including 92 tourists were welcomed in a way that the first 12 tourists who came to Bhutan on October 2, 1974, also would not have received.

Showcasing Bhutan’s hospitality and culture, a festive mood enveloped Paro international airport, with a cultural program organized by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). Lhabsang thruesel ceremony was also conducted and tourists welcomed in the traditional Bhutanese way.

A total of four flights from Kathmandu, New Delhi, Bangkok and Kolkatta brought the 120 visitors, while 10 tourists entered Bhutan from Phuentsholing. From the tourists, 28 international guests paid the new sustainable development fee (SDF) of USD 200 per day per tourist, whereas 48 guests arrived with the previous SDF of USD 65. 16 were regional tourists, who payed the Nu 1,200 SDF.

Civil servants working at the Paro international airport said it was not just the tourists who were excited, but even them. “Believe it or not. We were feeling very guilty and underemployed. We were waiting for this and from the day the government announced that the borders would open on September 23, we have been looking forward to this day,” a civil servant said.

“Today we are celebrating the blessed rainy day or traditional day of offerings. Along with it, we are opening our borders. The pandemic has hit the country’s economy badly and something inside me says that the economy will bounce back with the arrival of tourists,” an official working for the Customs office at the airport said.

The welcoming ceremonies were not limited to Paro only. There were multiple gate re-openings in the borders. The first group of people and tourists came to Phuentsholing through the new Pedestrian Terminal, while the gates at Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, Samtse and others were opened, too.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Lotay Tshering, who attended the Phuentsholing border reopening, shared a message on his official page stating “it is truly auspicious that the nation observes a significant milestone today, the reopening of border gates after almost two and half years of the pandemic.”

“Adorned with spirituality and prayers, the officials are all set to welcome our valued visitors at the border gates, not just here but also at three other integrated check posts of Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, and Samtse, as well as the Paro international airport. The excitement for the team here at Phuentsholing is doubled, as we usher in our friends at the professionally built Pedestrian Terminal,” the PM’s message reads.

Meanwhile, on September 22, 2022, the TCB unveiled the new brand of Bhutan’s Tourism “Believe.”

Speaking during the occasion, the Director General of TCB, Dorji Dhradhul said, “The new tourism strategy will focus on three key areas, enhancement of its sustainable development policies, infrastructure up-gradation and the elevation of the guest experience.”

He also added that transformation in tourism has come at the right time, and the goal of the new strategy is to create a high value experience for the guests in addition to wellbeing and creation of professional jobs for the citizens of the country.  

The PM, who was there at the launch said that the new tourism brand is not just for the tourism industry; it is for the nation. He added that the entire nation is the tourism industry and all Bhutanese ambassadors of the new brand, while underlining that the pandemic has shown that Bhutan is resilient and everything can be achieved if we work together. The PM further added that “High Value, Low Volume” has not just been tourism’s guiding policy, but also for other sectors. As Bhutan walks on “a new normal path,” the PM said that Bhutan should ensure that “we are a high value society.”

Photo Courtesy: Tourism Council of Bhutan

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu