SILIGURI: Travel trade operators in eastern India are apprehending strong impact on their business following change in the tourism entry fee policy of Himalayan country Bhutan.
“Introduction of mandatory Government fee for every incoming tourist, including those from India, will cut down the number of Bhutan bound Indian tourists. As the common practice, almost all of them spend at least two nights in eastern Himalayan region that includes Sikkim or West Bengal hills,” said veteran tour.
Currently, Bhutan charges every foreign visitor $ 250 per day including $65 ‘Sustainable Development Fee (SDF)’ and $40 visa charge. But ‘Regional Tourists’ from India, Bangladesh and Maldives need not to pay SDF or visa fee.
Now Bhutan is going to introduce SDF and a “permit processing fee” for the regional tourists too. A drafty policy has already been prepared on this and waiting for cabinet approval by the end of December.
According to Director-General of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhul, the move is aimed towards Bhutan’s “High Value, Low Impact” tourism policy. “This policy draft is under preparation for last four years,” said people associated to tourism in Bhutan.
As per TCB official statistics, out of 274,097 visitor arrivals in 2018, regional arrival figure was 202,290. In this, India and Bangladesh contribution was 1,91,836 and 10,450.
In 2018, Bhutan’s total tourism receipt from the international leisure tourists was USD 85.41 million out of which USD 26.29 million was direct revenue for the government through SDF, Visa Fees and 2% TDS.
“Being predominantly leisure destination, Bhutan attracts family groups from India or Bangladesh. The same ‘Sustainable Development Fee’ alone will cost a family of five Rs. 22,000 extra for a short trip. That is quite high for budget tourists those constitute 65 – 70% of entire Indian visitors to Bhutan. In fact, the impact will be quite visible if total fee becomes more than Rs 500 per head per day.
Following introduction of new fee, even the reduced regional visitor’s count can generate huge revenue for Bhutan Government. In addition, this can highly optimize limited tourist holding capacity of this tiny country.