Bhutan reopens to tourists willing to pay US$200-a-day visitor tax

ONE of the world’s most remote and exotic travel destinations, Bhutan, reopened its borders to tourists on Friday, but with a catch: a $200-per-night tax.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of fewer than 800,000 people, sandwiched between China and India, has increased its Sustainable Development Fee from $65 a night as part of a “renewed focus of sustainability” in the government’s strategy to attract “high value, low volume” tourism.

The landlocked nation, known for its Buddhist monasteries, preserved culture and lofty mountain peaks, has long shunned mass tourism. Leisure travelers were banned from entering the country until 1974, and before the borders closed again in 2020 due to Covid, visitors were required to spend at least $200 a day on packages offered by tour operators. That requirement has been removed as part of the new changes.

While the pandemic has seen a push-back against mass tourism in many countries, popular destinations have been eager to bring back visitors quickly to boost their battered economies. Italy’s Venice postponed imposing an entry fee of as much as 10 euros ($9.80) for day-trippers until next year, while Thailand has delayed a 300 baht ($8) levy on arrivals via air.

Bhutan, famous for measuring development using a “happiness index,” has said it plans to use the proceeds of the increased tax to offset the carbon footprint of tourists, enhance the skills of workers in the sector and improve infrastructure, as part of efforts to keep the country carbon-negative and combat the threat of climate change. – Bloomberg / pic TMR File