Just a few months before, tourists from India, Maldives, and Bangladesh were considered as Regional Tourists. And these three countries were exempted from the fee and could enter without a visa. But not anymore. If you are planning to travel to Bhutan after the novel epidemic, then as an Indian citizen you will have to pay for a visa.
On Monday 03 Feb 2020, Bhutan’s lower house of Parliament passed legislation that makes it mandatory for visitors from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives to pay a fee of 1200 Ngultrums per day (equivalent to 1200 INR or USD 16.85 per day) from July 2020. Indians don’t have a free entry visa to Bhutan anymore.
According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s Annual Report, India is the main source of visitors to the country. Indian visitors to Bhutan are more than 69 percent with more than 19 lakh tourists visiting the country.
Last October, an Indian biker caused outrage by climbing on top of a monument to pose for a photograph.
In 2018, Bhutan received 200,000 tourists from countries in the region, approximately 10% from 2017. It means Bhutan was becoming another mas tourism destination and for many Indians, it was an affordable international destination, UNTIL NOW.
Last year in November 2019, it was our Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli’s 31st birthday, which he celebrated with his wife Anushka Sharma in Bhutan. They did a two weeks vacation in Bhutan and have publicized Bhutan on his social media account. While India’s foremost celebrity couple, nicknamed collectively as “Virushka”, behaved themselves, others have not.
Sustainable Development Fee (SDF)
The visa fee will be collected as Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). The decision was made because of the increase in the number of regional tourists and its effect on Bhutan’s ecology.
The Bhutanese government said the SDF will directly go to the government. According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan, SDF will be contributed towards the government’s initiatives regarding the social welfare of Bhutanese citizens. According to the news report, there have been instances where some tourists have disobeyed the local laws and orders. Also, they disrespected their traditions and local customs.
While other nations tourists still continue to pay a USD 250 charge per day to the government, which includes a $65 sustainable development fee. Tourists from other nations have already been paying the fee as a part of their Minimum Daily Package – including meals, accommodation, and transport. The Minimum Daily Package is priced at $250 during high season and $200 during the off-season for foreign tourists.
The chairman of Bhutan’s hotel and restaurant association, Sonam Wangchuk told AFP – “We have shared our concerns and sentiments to the government. But despite that, they still went ahead with the decision.” He was worried that newly built budget hotels accomodating the Indian tourists would go bust.
The Bhutanese foreign minister Tandi Dorji had discussed the country’s decision to implement the entry fee during a visit to India with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar in the month of November 2019.
The Director-General of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhul, told TOI that the idea to extend the visa fee to India and other nations in line with Bhutan’s high-value-low-impact tourism policy. The policy draft has been prepared for four years.
Surely, this is bad news for those who are planning to travel to Bhutan after the novel epidemic or probably towards the end of this year 2020. Bhutan is such a beautiful destination that has the last excessive Himalayan kingdom, covered in mystery and magic, where a traditional Buddhist culture carefully holds global developments.
Although, we cannot ignore that the fact that an increase in tourism does create chaos and to maintain that government definitely needs resources. Nevertheless, as a traveler, I will be unhappy with the fees. But again as a responsible citizen, I won’t mind contributing to a noble cause. I will be ready to pay the fees for saving the culture and tradition of Bhutan.