The sprint begins with a good start

With 183 guests arriving in a week by paying the new SDF of USD 200, observers say it is a good start and that the way the TCB uses the SDF will play a big role in bringing tourists

The signals for Bhutan’s tourism industry appear bright looking at the number of guests that have come to Bhutan, paying the new sustainable development fee (SDF) of USD 200/person/day.
From the day Bhutan opened its borders (September 23, 2022) till September 30, 2022, the country received a total of 737 tourists, of which 183 paid the new SDF.


While the figures may not be a reflection of what is to come, observers in the tourism industry, including others say that transparency and the way the SDF is utilized will have a big impact on attracting tourists.  
“A universal fact is that most look forward to recognition. Thus, if the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) or the government adopts transparency and tells guests how the USD 200 SDF has positively impacted the country, there will be more guests visiting Bhutan,” Sonam Dorji, a self-employed entrepreneur said.


He added that this does not mean the TCB giving a “report.” “It is about Bhutan Believe. We are sending a message to the world saying ‘believe in us; your money will be invested for a good cause,’” he said.
Sonam added that tourism products around the world are similar. “Guests look for destinations that are different and one that could set Bhutan apart is what I have mentioned above,” he said.


Tshering, a tour operator, mentioned that the 183 who have come are very important. “They should leave Bhutan with an experience that they will remember throughout their lives. The stories they tell will matter a lot,” he said.


Speaking to the paper, chairman and founder of the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB), Garab Dorji, said guests who have paid their SDF through immigration and arrived with the new SDF of USD 200 have come in small groups of one or two and have already booked the hotels themselves. “The 384 tourists who arrived paying the former SDF, come in a large group of five or six,” he said.


Garab added that about 50 to 60 tour guides are with guests now and that too mostly with guests who paid the old SDF. He also mentioned that the 110 guides are split between tourists who arrived in Paro via flight and those who arrived via road in Phuentsholing. “Although the business for guides has not yet picked up like in the past, I hope that it will do so gradually,” he said.


On the importance of the 183 guests, he said that the guides with them would play a big role in giving them quality service and unforgettable memories. “Our guides understand this and I am definite they will do well,” he said.


Meanwhile, of the 737 tourists, 384 are those who have come paying the old SDF of USD 65 per person per day, while 183 tourists paid the new SDF. In addition, 170 tourists are from India, who paid Nu 1,200 per visitor per day.


Further, even if the 183 guests, spend just a day in Bhutan, they would be contributing USD 36,600 (roughly Nu 2mn) as SDF alone. If they spend a week, they would be paying USD 0.2 million (roughly Nu 20mn) as SDF. Subsequently, rough calculations indicate that from the 737 tourists who have arrived, the country would receive about Nu 5.3mn, even after assuming that they would just spend a day. If all spend a week, the contribution to SDF alone would be Nu 36.9mn.


If Bhutan gets an average of 150 guests (600 a month) paying USD 200, and stays for just three days in Bhutan, the SDF alone will be USD 360,000. This will amount to USD 4.32 mn annually, which is roughly Nu 351.6 mn. In 2019, the total income generated from Tourism was USD 225 million, with 315,599 tourists including regional tourists visiting the country.


Looking at the calculations, especially assuming that a very less number of tourists would visit Bhutan too, the income that can be generated from Tourism is high. “I am definite that there will be more than just 7,200 guests visiting Bhutan as tourists,” Dawa Penjor, a businessman based in Thimphu said.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu