Is Bhutan politely saying that “poor Indians are not welcome”? The Himalayan country has levied steep fees for tourists as it opens its borders after the Covid-19 pandemic after two years.
What is the SDF and who will pay for it?
From September 23, 2022, a Sustainable Development Tax (SDF) will be imposed on tourists from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives. It is $15 (Rs 1,200) per day per Indian and $200 (Rs 16,000) per person per day for other nationalities. This is in addition to travel costs, hotel reservations, etc.
Additionally, while children under five will be exempt, those between the ages of six and 12 will have to pay a fee of Rs 600. Anyone over the age of 12 will be considered an adult.
What is the current fee situation?
Until now, tourists from the three countries were exempt from the tax that other nationals had to pay – $250 (Rs. 20,000) per person per day during peak season and $200 (Rs. 16,000) per person per day. day during low season. The low season is in winter, from December to February, and during the rains from June to August.
This covers accommodation, transportation within Bhutan, a tour guide, food and non-alcoholic beverages, entrance fees, a $65 “Tourism Tax” or “Sustainable Development Tax (SDF)” ( formerly known as the “royalty” for the government), and tourist visa fees.
However, “Regional Tourists” can travel visa-free to Bhutan and are not subject to the $200/250 minimum spending floor. Regional tourists refer to tourists from Bangladesh, Maldives and India. As a result, Indian tourists had the ability to set their travel budgets, including accommodation and food.
Why the change
The decision was made to protect the country’s ecology, amid a spike in visitors from India. According to the Bhutanese newspaper Kuensel, Bhutan received more than 2,000,000 “regional tourists” in 2018.
The bulk of the tourist influx comes from India – of the 2,74,000 tourists to Bhutan in 2018, more than 1,80,000, or around 66%, came from India.
With Indians not paying visa fees, SDF and daily expenses, this was a huge untapped potential revenue stream.
To promote tourism in less popular eastern Bhutan, the SDF will not be levied on tourists traveling to 11 districts in the region. This exemption will be applicable until December 2024, after which it will be up to the new government to decide whether it continues.
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