DOT says SDF incentives have garnered positive responses

DOT says SDF incentives have garnered positive responses

It has been just over a month since the introduction of the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) discounts for tourists by the Bhutanese government. While the full impact of the incentives is yet to be realized, positive indications have emerged, according to the Director General (DG) of the Department of Tourism (DoT). Nonetheless, there are challenges confronted, such as opening Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkar land borders to international tourists, high airline ticket prices and limited routes, payment gateway issues, domestic flight reliability, developing better itineraries and experiences and others.

Further, the DG said that in addition to the recently offered incentives, the tourism industry can benefit from further marketing efforts.

According to the DG tour operators have reported immediate bookings and confirmed reservations following the implementation of the incentives, including from long-stay guests who visit Bhutan for activities such as trekking and hiking.

“This surge in interest suggests that the incentives have successfully piqued the curiosity of tourists.”

Furthermore, the DG added that the response to the new SDF incentives at global travel fairs has been consistently positive. The enthusiasm generated among potential travelers indicates that the incentives are resonating well with them, creating a strong desire to visit Bhutan.

Meanwhile, the SDF incentives have garnered extensive global coverage, with over 100 articles highlighting their benefits.

“This widespread publicity not only raises awareness about the allure of visiting Bhutan but also emphasizes the attractiveness of the new discounts,” the DG stated.

Additionally, one of the key advantages of the new SDF incentives is their appeal to families, making it easier for them to plan a trip to Bhutan. This is likely to attract more family travel and potentially encourage repeat travelers to explore areas they haven’t experienced on their previous visits.

In addition, the incentives address the challenge of tourists staying for shorter durations and not fully exploring the country.

According to the DG, “By encouraging longer stays and a more comprehensive exploration of Bhutan, the incentives benefit all stakeholders in the tourism industry and contribute to a richer experience for visitors.”

The DoT expects that the new SDF incentives will help increase the number of tourists, although it may take some time to observe the full impact. The combination of positive feedback from tour operators, favorable responses at travel fairs, extensive global coverage, and the objective of encouraging longer stays and broader exploration suggests that the proposed SDF incentives have the potential to boost tourism in Bhutan, according to the DG.

Moreover, the DG said that in addition to the recently offered incentives, the tourism industry can benefit from further marketing efforts. “While there have been strong positive developments with some tourism providers significantly increasing their marketing activities, particularly in response to the SDF incentives, there is still room for improvement and more can be done in this area,” he said.

Elaborating on it, he said that one effective strategy is for tour operators and hotels to actively engage in digital marketing campaigns and leverage social media platforms. “Many providers have already started doing so, but it is important to expand these efforts further. By maintaining an active online presence, running targeted digital marketing campaigns, and connecting with potential customers through social media, tourism providers can generate business inquiries and increase their reach,” he added.

The DG also mentioned that another opportunity lies in organizing FAM trips (Familiarization trips) and press trips. “The government has recently approved these trips, and it is encouraging to see many tour operators and hotels taking advantage of this opportunity by inviting top agents and press partners from around the world to visit Bhutan,” he underlined. He added that encouraging more providers to host FAM trips and invite press and global travel agents can significantly contribute to showcasing the destination and generating interest in Bhutan. “We have so far received applications from around 62 Bhutanese TOs and Hotels to invite either individual or group FAM trips in the past month,” he mentioned.

Going further, the DG said that sales activities such as meeting partners in source markets, connecting with travel agents, joining sales affiliations / consortia, and conducting roadshows can help generate demand and attract more visitors. He said that these efforts enable direct engagement with potential customers and facilitate building strong partnerships within the travel industry.

He also added that digital distribution platforms like, Agoda, Expedia, C-trip, and Make My Trip offer significant distribution capabilities, reaching millions of potential customers. “However, it is observed that only a fraction of hotels in each dzongkhag are listed on these platforms,” he noted, adding that. encouraging more Bhutanese hotels to sign up on these platforms and leverage their distribution capabilities is a great opportunity, as it allows access to a wide customer base without any upfront cost, with payment only through commissions for room bookings.

Participating in events, roadshows, and global agent meetings was also cited as good marketing strategies, which help showcase Bhutan to a wider audience. “By attending such industry gatherings, tourism stakeholders can establish valuable connections and promote the unique experiences the country has to offer.”

The DG further mentioned that leveraging social media platforms and regularly updating accounts can significantly enhance the industry’s marketing efforts. He said that it is important for tourism providers to post engaging content, tag the Department of Tourism, and encourage resharing of their posts to amplify their reach and exposure.

Another area he shared concerned the need for travel stakeholder websites to be updated with current information. “Some travel industry websites have not been updated since the pre-pandemic period and do not reflect the latest developments, potentially deterring potential visitors,” the DG said.

Meanwhile, the government introduced the discounted SDF tariff in June 2023. Under the new tariff structure, the basic daily fee of $200 remains unchanged. However, visitors who stay for four nights will be able to stay another four nights without incurring any additional charges. Similar concessions apply to seven-night stays, and those paying for 12 nights can extend their stay to up to 30 nights without further fees. A sliding scale is applied for other durations, offering discounts for travel until December 31, 2024. The 24-hour waiver for entry to border towns remains in effect.

In addition to the SDF incentives, the DoT is currently engaged in various marketing and promotion activities to showcase Bhutan and attract visitors. These initiatives include targeted digital marketing campaigns, advertising campaigns in key source markets, brand campaigns like “Bhutan Believe” to establish a unique identity, events and road shows in key markets, and active promotion of festivals, events, and other activities. The department also maintains regular press releases and actively engages in public relations efforts to build relationships with global press and media.

Although, the SDF discounts have received a positive feedback from the tourist, there are some major challenges which hinder the scope of tourism in the country. The DG stated that opening Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkar land borders to international tourists is one of the main concerns from tourism stakeholders currently.

He also said that high airline ticket prices and limited routes, payment gateway issues, domestic flight reliability, developing better itineraries and experiences, lack of tourist infrastructure and development of products and experiences in the east are some of the major hindrance current in the tourism sector.

However, the DoT is currently in the talks with the relevant stake holders to address and solve the aforementioned concerns.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu