Thu, August 18, 2022

international

Bhutan’s borders to reopen in September, fee rises


Bhutan will reopen its borders to tourists on September 23, 2022, the Tourism Council of Bhutan announced on Thursday.

A press release from the council stated that the reopening would be with a renewed focus on the sustainability of the sector. “At the centre of the sector’s revamp are three areas – upgrading infrastructure and services, the elevation of tourists’ experiences, and maintaining carbon-neutral tourism.”

Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan and Foreign Minister, Tandi Dorji said, “Covid-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically but socially as well while keeping carbon footprints low. In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.”

Among the changes are revised standards for service providers, including hotels, guides, tour operators, and drivers, which will soon be subjected to a more robust certification process before they can engage tourists. TCB stated that employees will be required to participate in skilling and reskilling programmes, where necessary, to boost service quality.

Amid the intensifying threat of climate change, according to TCB, Bhutan will also be stepping up its efforts to keep the country carbon-negative and a green destination for tourists. The nation is keenly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as frequent rain and floods.

 

“As such, it will be raising the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of USD 65 per person per night for tourists to USD 200, which will go towards activities that promote carbon-neutral tourism and build a more sustainable tourism sector,” the TCB stated. This includes offsetting the carbon footprint of tourists and upskilling workers in the sector. “Indian tourists will pay a previously stipulated fee, which will be revised at a later date.”

At the same time, the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) will be removed. The rate refers to the minimum sum paid by all tourists for an all-inclusive package tour to Bhutan. The MDPR has in the past often limited the tourist experience, as travellers could only choose packaged tours provided by tour operators. “Going forward, tourists will have the flexibility to engage service providers directly and pay for their services accordingly,” the TCB stated.

The fee changes came into effect on June 20.

The revamp of the tourism sector comes amid a widespread transformation across the country, from the civil service to the financial sector. The changes are geared towards developing Bhutan’s human capital by equipping the population with more proficient skills, knowledge, and experiences.

“Our strategy for the revamp of the tourism sector brings us back to our roots, of ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism, where we meet the needs of tourists while protecting our people, culture, values, and environment,” TCB’s director-general Dorji Dhradhul said.

“Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese. Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations,” he said.

 

All tours confirmed before June 20, 2022 can avail of rates applicable under the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020, the minimum daily package rate (MDPR), which includes the royalty of USD 65.

June 20 is the day Tourism Levy Bill 2022 was tabled in National Assembly or the day it comes into effect.

This was a major recommendation from the National Council to let all confirmed tours benefit from the old pricing.

National Assembly members including Tandi Dorji spoke in support of the recommendation. They said they had missed it while they deliberated and passed the Bill last week.

The NA had initially passed the Bill saying that old pricing under the Tourism Levy Act 2020 will apply only to those tourists who had paid and confirmed their tours before June 20, 2022.

Members said that the precedent was the tours were confirmed months ahead, while the actual payment took place closer to the time of the visit.

Tandi Dorji said that tour operators have to show evidence of tour confirmation by tourists to avail of this facility.

The final Section 6, Transitional and Saving, has been adopted as thus: “Notwithstanding Section 4 of this Act, a tourist who had confirmed the tour under the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 on or before 20th June 2022 shall continue to benefit subject to conditions imposed under Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 and Rules thereof.” NA members through a majority show of hands endorsed the recommendation of the National Council.

The Tourism Levy Bill 2022 was passed by both the Houses after the National Assembly endorsed all 11 recommendations from National Council on the Bill and adopted it with a large majority in favour on Thursday. The Bill will now be submitted to His Majesty The King for Royal assent.

Chairperson of the Economic and Finance Committee, Kinga Penjor presented the 11 recommendations made by the National Council on the Bill along with the committee’s decision to accept the recommendations.

National Council also recommended changes to Section 7. The section reads, “A tourist shall be liable to pay a tourism levy known as the Sustainable Development Fee of USD 200 per night which may be revised by the Competent Authority from time to time”.

The NC recommended deleting “which may be revised by the Competent Authority from time to time” from the section justifying that the taxes, fees and other forms of levies shall not be imposed or altered except by law as per the Article 14.1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Of the 40 sitting members yesterday, 38 voted Yes, 1 voted No, and 1 abstained.

 

Published : July 01, 2022

By : Kuensel