Ending the decade-old provision of free entry for Indian tourists, the Bhutanese government on Monday, February 3, passed legislation to levy Rs 1,200 ($17) for "regional tourists" from India, the Maldives and Bangladesh, beginning July 2020.
Referred to as the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), the entry fee is meant to help the government deal with the increasing number of tourists, its impact of the country's ecology and to regulate the tourism industry.
While the fee goes directly to the government coffers, it also contributes to the social welfare of Bhutanese citizens, according to the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
The SDF imposed on regional tourists is much lower than the $65 charged from other foreign tourists, who are also charged a compulsory flat "cover charge" of $250 per day.
A concession has also been given to children below the age of five from India, Maldives and Bangladesh, who will not have to pay the levy. Those between six and 12 years will be required to pay only Rs 600.
Bhutan's Tourism Council Director Dorji Dhradul said the idea of the SDF was to provide better facilities for regional tourists.
"The levy of SDF to regional tourists will help in ensuring an exclusive experience to all tourists which is the intent of our tourism policy of high value, low volume," Dhradul told The Hindu.
Regulating tourist traffic
However, as Indian mainly prefer to travel to the more developed western region of Bhutan, the government has decided to drop SDF charges for tourists visiting 11 of 20 total districts of Bhutan's eastern region. The decision was taken to promote tourism in Bhutan's eastern region as well.
Will the move prevent people from visiting Bhutan?
Regional tour operators, especially from West Bengal, feel that the SDF will prevent people from going to Bhutan and impact the heavy rush during the October "Puja season".
According to The Hindu, discussions had regarding the fee had already taken place between Indian and Bhutan. The MEA has called the fee "nominal".
"Bhutanese authorities have assured that tourists from India would not be inconvenienced in the course of the implementation of the new regulation," official sources were quoted as saying by the daily.