DESPITE concrete moves to expand its tourism product offerings and seasonality (TTG Asia e-Daily, February 6, 2012), Bhutan is contemplating raising its minimum daily tariff to US$300 or more within the next four to five years, to restrict the profile of targeted source markets to a select few.
Levied on non-Indian foreign visitors, high season (March-May, September-November) tariffs were raised from US$200 to US$250 per person per night beginning this year. Low season tariffs remain at US$200 per person per night.
Speaking to TTG Asia e-Daily on the sidelines of the PATA Adventure Travel & Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart 2012, Kesang Wangdi, director general Tourism Council of Bhutan, said: “It is imperative for Bhutan to be a high-end destination. We want to concentrate on creating sustainable value and benefits for Bhutan in the long term, rather than pander to mass tourism in the short term.”
“We want to attract visitors for whom price is not the main criteria when selecting a holiday. Bhutan is an exclusive destination for a certain type of tourist with a particular mindset,” he added.
Anthony Wong, group managing director of Malaysia’s Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel, said: “Bhutan is right to consider increasing its tariff as it will protect local businesses, stemming the flow of revenue exiting the country. Bhutan is a gem and an exclusive destination, and people should understand that coming here is a privilege.”
Wong emphasised that Bhutan should explain clearly that the tariff encompasses a royalty fee used to fund the country’s health and education sectors. “If this were highlighted to consumers, a fee hike would have less of a detrimental impact on demand,” he said.
Buyers such as Hannah Methven, product manager for UK-based Explore Worldwide, and Jenny Campbell from South Africa’s Travel Experts said the lower end of the market would probably think twice about heading to Bhutan if tariffs were raised.
“Some clients might choose to go to Nepal or Tibet, which are not as expensive. Only fairly affluent FITs or the well-travelled will continue to choose Bhutan,’ said Campbell.
Tshewang Om, operations manager of Thimpu-based Om Travenza, said: “If the tariff was increased, from a business standpoint, this would make Bhutan harder to sell. However, it would be good for the environment and overall wellbeing.”
Sonam Wangmo, founder of Bhutan’s Yu Druk Tours and Treks, said: “It is more critical to ensure that we put measures in place to manage numbers and capacity, rather than just think of the bottom line.”