Mumbai: Adoption of Tourism Levy Exemption Bill 2017 and subsequent waiving off of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) to boost tourism activities.
Eastern Bhutan offers one of the most authentic experiences for adventure-savvy tourists. The entire region is awash with unspoiled natural beauty, towering cliffs and pristine forests with great variations in altitude and climatic conditions. Still, the number of tourists visiting the region every year is very low. At the same time, popular destinations such as Thimpu, Paro and Phunakha are getting over saturated especially during peak seasons of the year. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is leaving no stone unturned to promote the eastern region in a big way.
Talking to Destination Reporter on the sidelines of OTM 2018 in Mumbai, Rinzin Jamtsho, Chief Tourism Officer – Infrastructure and Product Development, TCB said the Bhutan Government is trying to ensure more infrastructure facilities in and around the eastern region so as to attract more travellers. “Besides rich cultural heritage and scenic landscapes, the region offers enough scope for bird watching, trekking, nature tours, mountain biking and the like.
However, as of now, only two per cent of the total tourists arriving in Bhutan are visiting eastern Bhutan. The Government is working out various ways to promote tourism circuits in the region. It is important to prevent over tourism in the already popular destination as well as to ensure substantial growth in the number of tourists visiting the country,” he said. The eastern circuit includes the districts of Mongar, Lhuntse, Trashi Yangtse, Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar.
According to the TCB, India continues to be the top most inbound source market for Bhutan. As per stats, 2,09,570 tourists, including regional tourists (from India, Bangladesh and Maldives) visited the country in 2016. Out of the 1,46,797 regional tourists, 1,38,201 were from India, an increase of about 43 per cent from 97,000 travellers in 2015. Officials said there would have been a growth of at least 20 per cent in 2017. As far as FTAs are concerned, in 2016, Chinese tourists dominated at 17 per cent of the total visitors, followed by the United States of America at 13 per cent and Japan at 9 per cent at the second and third position. Thailand and UK made it as the fourth and fifth inbound markets.
“As usual, India is the biggest market for Bhutan. We understand that majority of the tourists coming to Bhutan are leisure travellers. Usually, these tourists spend up to a week. People from all over India – even from the Southern States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu – visit our country. We look forward to having more number of tourists in 2018 as we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan. To celebrate this landmark, we would like to introduce special offers to Indian tourists visiting our country in 2018,” Jamtsho said. Besides high-level exchanges, both Bhutan and India have planned a series of special commemorative initiatives, cultural activities, exhibitions and seminars throughout the year. After putting up a wonderful show at OTM 2018, TCB will attend SATTE 2018 and later organise a road show in Assam.
Tourism Levy Exemption Bill
Following the adoption of the Tourism Levy Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2017 and the subsequent waiving off of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) or tourism royalty of $65 per day for tourists visiting eastern Bhutan, many tour and travel operators in the country strongly believe that tourism activities in eastern Bhutan will receive a fillip in 2018. The trade believes that the move will enhance economic growth and provide job opportunities for the youth in the region. The Government also envisions that waiving off of the SDF, for a period of three years from December 2017 to December 2020, will boost the number of tourists visiting the country and generate revenue.