Bhutan cuts daily tourist fee in half to attract more visitors

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is halving the $200 daily fee it charges tourists to boost a sector that is still struggling to recover a year after COVID-19 restrictions ended.

Bhutan increased its “sustainable development fee” from $65 to $200 per visitor per night last September when it ended two years of COVID restrictions and said the money would go towards offsetting visitor-generated traffic CO2 used.

The new tariff of $100 per night will take effect from September and will last for four years, the government said in a statement late Friday.

“This comes given the important role played by the tourism sector in creating jobs, generating foreign exchange… and spurring overall economic growth,” it said.

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Isolated for generations, Bhutan opened to tourists in 1974 with 300 visitors. According to official data, the number rose to 315,600 in 2019, a 15.1% increase from the previous year.

Bhutan has always been wary of the effects of mass tourism and bans mountaineering to preserve the sacredness of its peaks. The tourist fee limits arrivals to wealthier travelers, who make up a fraction of those visiting nearby Nepal.

Still, Bhutan hopes to increase tourism’s contribution to its $3 billion economy from around 5% to 20%.

Dorji Dhradhul, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, said halving the fee could boost arrivals during the September-December peak tourist season, which includes many religious and cultural events in the predominantly Buddhist country.

In June, the government eased rules on tourists’ length of stay and fees, but the number of tourists did not increase as expected.

Dhradhul said more than 56,000 tourists have visited Bhutan since January, but about 42,000 are Indian nationals who only have to pay a fee of 1,200 Indian rupees ($14.5) a day.

About 50,000 Bhutanese are employed in tourism, which earned about US$84 million in foreign exchange annually in the three years before the pandemic.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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