SDF: The balancing act

A sustainable development fee (SDF) of Nu 500 is going to be imposed on regional tourists visiting the country from January 1 next year.

This was introduced as a measure to mitigate carbon footprints from heavy influx of visitors and consequences such as cultural dilution among others.

Hypothetically, an Indian family of four would be charged a total sum of Nu 6,000 for a three-day stay in Bhutan. This is expensive for regional tourists but some would argue that this is a reasonable means to curb tourist volume.

The SDF seems to align well with Bhutan’s high end low impact tourism philosophy but the risk is that this could have a string of effects in the tourism industry that could affect some players unfairly while others would benefit. This in the longer run would affect the economy since tourism is one of the biggest revenue generators for the country.

For instance, small hotels that depend big time on regional tourists would see a downward spiral in business. They are known to thrive on regional tourists who prefer to cut costs by preferring less than three-star accommodation. And it would mean a major loss for these businesses.

Additionally, a new rule to facilitate e-permit for regional tourists have put small hoteliers in a quandary. Facilitating e-permit would mean that the tourists must route through travel agents. Now the problem arises because travel agents would book only hotels that they are on good terms with or who could offer them a commission. This would again affect small hotels adversely.

While we know that environment and cultural conservation would cost, the authorities should explore ways to balance it with economic opportunities that would add to the national exchequer as well.

Gross National Happiness values are worth striving for but we are deceiving ourselves if we think can survive merely on air and ideals.

We need to come up with innovative solutions where those in the tourism industry who are already at a disadvantage are not disempowered.

The need of the day therefore is to do the balancing act: cherish and work toward environment and cultural preservation but do not ignore the fact that a lot can be lost in terms of economic benefits if the zeal does not have a check and balance.

In this case, we need to relook into the rules and tighten loopholes. Not doing so could cause ostensible damage to the country’s fledging tourism industry and shaky economy.