To continue improving the incentive packages and other viable strategies to attract more tourists, considering the tourism industry’s ability to contribute enormously to the national exchequer, the government has revised the sustainable development fee (SDF), incorporated additional incentives and policy measures and injected other measures. This was informed to the National Assembly today.
According to the government, realizing the important role of the tourism sector in generating employment, earning foreign exchange with potential spillover benefits for ancillary industries and boosting overall economic growth, the Government with the aim of revitalizing the tourism and allied sectors has reviewed the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022 and has provided a series of incentives and strategies to attract tourists, which began with the SDF revision.
From June 1, 2023, three SDF incentives were introduced to attract tourists for longer duration as follows: 1. 4+4 (USD 800) Pay for four nights and get the remaining 4 nights for free; 7+7 (USD1,400) Pay for 7 nights and get the other 7 nights for free and 12+18 (USD 2,400) Pay for 12 nights and get the remaining 18 nights for free.
Then, in August 2023, the Royal Government of Bhutan announced additional incentives and policy measures to boost its tourism sector, introducing a 50% reduction on its tourism levy, or the daily Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). The government has said that Bhutan’s commitment to high value, low volume tourism is underscored by its SDF, which is now USD 100 per person per night (down from USD 200 per person per night). The new and lower levy will be in effect until September 2027. In addition, a fifty per cent (50%) reduction on the SDF shall be granted on the rates applied to children aged between 6 and 12 years for US Dollar-paying children visiting as tourists. The effective SDF with the discount for children will be USD 50 per person per night. Children who have not yet turned six years old are eligible to visit Bhutan without paying any SDF.
Further, in April 2023, the Government declared a 24-hour SDF exemption for tourists in the border towns of Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar. This exemption will be in effect from April 14, 2023 for a period of one year. This measure aims to bolster the tourism and hospitality sectors in these border towns to help the economic resurgence.
In March 2023, the entry fees at monuments for tourists were revised back to the old rate ((Nu.1,000 for Takshang and rest Nu.500) with only seven monuments (viz. Tashichodzong, Memorial Chorten, Changangkha Lhakhang, Takstang, Kyichu Lhakhang, Punakha Dzong, Chimi Lhakhang) now charging fees. The revision was done recognizing the need to rejuvenate the tourism industry and because the tourists were paying a revised SDF, which should cover the monument fees. The government has also lifted entry restrictions for tourists on 6-designate auspicious days to visit monument sites.
Capacity building has been provided to Dzongkhag Officials to assess budget hotels or non-star hotels of One-Star and Two-Star ratings to cater to tourists. As of September 2023, the Department of Tourism has assessed and approved 142 One-star hotels and 60 Two-Star hotels. Remaining non-star hotels will be assessed by respective Dzongkhag.
The Department of Tourism facilitated the management of tourist guides at the Phuntsholing pedestrian terminal to help the walk-in tourists; restroom management was outsourced to youth group. The ProTouch Company formed by a youth group of four has been provided the opportunity to manage two restrooms at Phajoding and two restrooms along the Thimphu-Phuntsholing highway. The government facilitated the formation of Taktsang Service Management Group to enhance services by engaging local people providing pony riding services whilst also taking responsibility for maintaining and managing wastes along the hiking trail.