The Kingdom of Bhutan will finally be reopening to outsiders later this month but it is tripling the price of its nightly tourism fees to maintain ‘high-value experiences’ for visitors. Jenny Southan reports

Now that the post-pandemic travel boom is underway, many destinations around the world are once again facing the problem of overtourism. In a bid to hold back the crowds, Venice, for example, will be implementing a €3 to €10 entry fee for daytrippers from January 16, 2023. However, Globetrender doesn’t expect that will put anyone off so is it just a money-making scheme?

Taking the issue more seriously is Bhutan, which is reopening to international tourism on September 23, 2022. To coincide, it will require inbound travellers to pay the government a nightly US$200 “Sustainable Development Fee”, meaning a one-week trip would cost US$1,400 per person, just for the privilege of being there.

This will be an increase of more than 300% – from the US$65 per night, per person fee before the pandemic. Apparently, the money will go towards activities that “promote carbon-neutral tourism” and “build a more sustainable tourism sector”. (In 2019, 315,599 foreigners entered Bhutan, a 15 per cent increase on 2018.)

It’s certainly elitist to charge a high daily visitor tax but it’s also an effective way of avoiding becoming a mass market destination.

In a bid to better direct money to locals, Bhutan has removed the Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR), which refers to the minimum sum previously paid by all tourists for an all-inclusive package tour to Bhutan.

The MDPR has in the past often limited the tourist experience, as travellers could only choose packaged tours provided by tour operators. In the future, tourists will have the flexibility to engage service providers directly, and pay for their services accordingly.

Dorji Dhradhul, director general for Tourism Council of Bhutan, said: “Our strategy for the revamp of the tourism sector brings us back to our roots, of ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism, where we meet the needs of tourists while protecting our people, culture, values and environment.

“Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese. Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations.”

A recent announcement from the Tourism Council of Bhutan has revealed that the country’s tourism sector is “undergoing a revamp”, with a focus on three key areas: infrastructure and services; the travel experiences of tourists; and the sector’s environmental impact.

Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, said in a statement: “Covid-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated, so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically, but socially as well, while keeping carbon footprints low. In the long-run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.”

Service providers such as hotels and tour guides will be subjected to “more robust certification processes” to raise standards, and employees will be required to participate in training programmes. The country will also be stepping up its efforts to maintain its status as “carbon negative”, which means that it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces thanks to more than 70 per cent of its land being covered in trees.

Earlier this year, the ancient 403km Trans Bhutan Trail reopened as a hiking route for tourists, mountain bikers and modern pilgrims, providing much-needed economic benefits to rural communities along the way.