Bhutan Government Waives Off USD 65 a Day for Tourists
The move is expected to promote tourism in the eastern part of the country
Tourism is the main backbone of the Bhutanese economy and the government, since the establishment of the tourism industry in the 1970s, have been emphasizing on the high-value, low impact policy, where tourists pay USD 200 to 250 a day to visit the country.
Government to waive off USD 65 royalty to boost tourism in the eastern part of the country
The present government, however, waived off the USD 65 royalty to boost tourism in the eastern part of the country. Bhutan has 20 dzongkhags and the western parts of the country are much more developed in terms of infrastructure than the eastern part.
The tourists visiting the six dzongkhags of Lhuntse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar will have to pay only USD 135 during the low season and USD 185 during the peak season.
The decision was made during the National Assembly session earlier this week when the Parliamentarians were deliberated The Tourism Levy exemption Bill.
While the members of the opposition and the National Council, which is the house of the review, objected the move, the government endorsed it as Money Bill.
Bhutan's finance minister, Namgay Dorji, who presented the Bill as a Money Bill said that the provision of the royalty waiver for tourists visiting the east is only valid for three years and the main motive is to encourage more tourists to visit the eastern part of the country.
According to the government's finding this year, only two percent of the total international tourists have visited the eastern dzongkhags.
The government has also promised that after waiving off the royalty, about 20 percent of the tourists will visit eastern dzongkhags.
The minister also said that the Levy Exemption Bill will be piloted until December 31, 2020, which will enhance the development of tourism in the east and boost the country's economy. It will also help in providing employment to youths in the tourism sector.
Bhutan's Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, said that the royalty was waived off for three years in order to market the eastern dzongkhags. "When tourists are well aware of the eastern dzongkhags, the tourists would visit without any exemptions."
The agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji, supported the move, saying that it will add up to the good road conditions after the widening of East-West Highway construction is fully completed.
Benefits of tourism for the eastern dzongkhags
He said that the government's introduction of domestic air services and new trekking routes will even increase the number of tourists visiting the eastern dzongkhags.
However, the opposition leader, Pema Gyamtsho, said that the Bill will affect the country's high-value low-impact tourism policy.
He said that the issue is not about waiving off the royalty of USD 65 but they are more concerned about the tourism policy.
A member of the opposition party, who is also the Panbang member of Parliament, Dorji Wangdi, said that government should understand that tourists are not visiting eastern dzongkhags because they cannot afford the daily tariff of USD 65, but because of the lack of infrastructure like domestic airports, hotels and poor road conditions.
"With the completion of the East-West Highway and the starting of domestic air services, I am sure that tourist might opt to visit the eastern dzongkhags and even without waiving off the daily tariff," he said.
Prime Minister said that in 12 months, only 7,200 tourists have visited the eastern dzongkhags and after waiving off the royalty, if the number of tourists increases three fold, the number will increase up to 21,000 tourists. If this figure is divided into six dzongkhags, it will have not much of an impact. "Then the tourism policy of high-value low-impact would not be affected."
He said that the western side of the country has been reaping the fruits of having good numbers of tourists visiting every year while the eastern part was left out by tourists. With the waiving off of the royalty, the government is hopeful to have a good number of tourists.
The Prime Minister also said that with the increasing number of tourists in the east, people living in the east and the country's economy at large would benefit. "The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operator is also in favour of waiving off the royalty."
The royalty is levied in addition to the minimum daily tariff of USD 200 during the lean season and USD 250 during the peak season.
By Chimi Wangmo for the New Bhutan Times.