A policy may be approved by the end of December, Bangladeshi tourism operators are concerned
Sad news for travel lovers.
Bhutan is likely to slap a "Sustainable Development Fee" of $65 per day per person plus a $40 permit processing fee for tourists coming from Bangladesh, India and Maldives from the end of December, according to Times of India.
These three countries enjoy a free entry into the almost pristine Himalayan Kingdom. For other countries, Bhutan charges each visitor $250 per day. This fee includes the $65 sustainable development fee and the $40 visa charge.
The Indian newspaper quoted the director-general of the Tourism Council of Bhutan Dorji Dhradhul as saying that the move is aimed at Bhutan's "High Value, Low Impact" tourism policy.
A draft policy being prepared over the last four years aims at introducing visa charge and sustainable development fee for all tourists. This policy may be approved by the end of December.
According to Bhutan tourism data of 2018, the number of Bangladeshi tourists there in 2018 was 10,450. The number of Indian tourists is the highest in Bhutan with 1.91 lakh visiting there in the same year. The number of tourists from all other countries was just around 70,000.
For a Bangladeshi tourist, paying the two fees means paying around Tk9,000 on the first day for a person. A minimalistic three-day stay means paying Tk20,000 extra ($65 sustainable development fee for each day stay along with $40 visa charge).
Tourists may decrease
If the two charges are imposed, the number of Bhutan-going tourists from Bangladesh may decrease, fear outbound tour operators in the country.
"We offer a package of a three-night-and-four-day stay in Bhutan for Tk45,000 to Tk50,000. But the new policy will add more charges to this amount," said Toufique Tahman, the chief executive of Journey Plus.
"As a result, the number of Bhutan-bound tourists from Bangladesh will decline," he added.
Rezaul Karim, the chief executive officer of the Sky Holidays, said, "We send many corporate groups to Bhutan. But they may change their destination due to extra costs."
Drukair is the only flight operating airplane company from Dhaka to Bhutan. Drukair's General Sales Agent (Passenger) is Dhaka National Air Travel Agency and Cargo Ltd.
Farabi Bin Zahir, a senior executive of the Dhaka National Air Travel Agency, said, "After the 2015 earthquake and the 2018 US Bangla airplane crash in Nepal, the number of Bhutan-going Bangladeshi tourists increased rapidly."
But tourists might avoid Bhutan as a tourism destination from now on, he said, adding "It will negatively impact our business."
Dr Bhubon Chandra Biswas, the chief executive officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board, said Bhutan is known as a high value destination and it has a limited tourist capacity. "That is why, they may target tourists from countries outside South Asia [by forming a new policy]."
When asked if Bangladesh has anything to do about the policy, he said, "We cannot do anything against an internal policy of another country."
In a reply to a question by the Times of India, Bhutanese Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji denied that the new charges are aimed at cutting down tourist numbers.
He said the country wants to allow them to "grow in a sustainable manner" in the next few years.
In fact, the Bhutanese Government wants to stop regional tourists from using low-rent accommodation offered online, which has led to mushrooming of several unregulated homestays and guest houses, he added.
In 2018, Bhutan's total tourism receipt from international leisure tourists was $85.41 million.
The current tourism charges in Bhutan
As of now all foreign tourists, except for Bangladeshis, Indians and Maldivians, have to pay $250 per person per day during the peak season and $200 per person per day during the off-peak season, according to a report of The Indian Express.
The offseason falls in the winter from December to February and in the monsoon from June to August.
The daily charge, that includes $65 "tourism levy" and the fees for tourist's visa, covers accommodation, transport within Bhutan, a tourist guide, food and non-alcoholic drinks and entry fees. Besides, the country additionally charges $40 for tourists travelling solo and $30 for each tourist in a group of two persons.
Tourists from Bangladesh, India and Maldives have been exempt from these charges. They can travel visa-free to Bhutan and are not subject to the minimum expenditure floor of $200 or $250.
According to the global travel portal Lonely Planet, a budget hotel in Thimphu can cost between $20 and $40 a night, and a restaurant meal between $7 and $15 per person, read the Indian Express report.
The report added that top-end accommodation could cost between $500 and $1,750 per night.