Bhutan tourism looking bright with reduction of sustainable development fees

Bhutan’s travel sector is bouncing back from the lows of the global pandemic, buoyed by a multi-pronged promotional strategy and the announcement that the nation’s Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) was being cut by 50 per cent from September 1.

“In addition to the SDF incentives, the tourism department is implementing various marketing strategies to showcase Bhutan and attract more visitors,” said Dorji Dhradhul, director general of the Department of Tourism Bhutan.

Dhradhul: enhancing Bhutan’s presence in the global travel industry

“We are doing rigorous branding and carrying out a variety of advertising and promotional campaigns and activities to enhance Bhutan’s presence in the global travel industry,” he told TTG Asia.

Also, Dhradhul remains confident that greater visitor numbers will quickly justify the decision to reduce the SDF from US$200 per person per day to half that figure.

Visitors to Bhutan have been required to pay a daily fee since the country opened to international travellers in 1974 and it remains a key element of the nation’s “high value, low volume” tourism strategy. The travel sector has welcomed the reduction in the SDF and has been further reassured as the new rate will remain in place until August 31, 2027.

“Revenue generated from the SDF is allocated to various sustainability initiatives, including the conservation of the pristine natural environment,” Dhradhul said.

Funds from the SDF will continue to be allocated to measures to offset the carbon footprint of visitors, such as through planting of trees, and assisting the tourism sector by upskilling workers, maintaining trails, reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and electrifying Bhutan’s transportation sector.

Dhradhul added that he anticipates surpassing income earned in 2019 from the SDF before the end of the year at the same time as the country attracts more visitors, thereby ensuring a strong revenue stream from the SDF.

Nearly 16,000 foreign travellers visited Bhutan in October, around 10 per cent higher than the agency’s forecast of 14,287 and putting the nation on target to hit 98,000 visitors for the full calendar year.

Key to further increase in inbound travellers will be greater promotional efforts with international travel partners and key opinion leaders, global media outlets and influencers “to amplify Bhutan’s prominence as a top sustainable travel destination in the world”, Dhradhul noted.

The agency is also keen to promote destinations outside the most commonly visited parts of the country, such as Thimphu, Paro and the Punakha Valley, and encourage them to explore less well-known areas and unique cultural attractions.

When asked where he would personally recommend visitors explore, Dhradhul was quick to name the natural hot springs of Gasa, particularly for anyone who has undertaken a trek through Bhutan’s stunning natural environment and wishes to ease their aching muscles.

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