Ours. S. Buddhist stupas in Jomolhari base trekking, Paro, Bhutan

A tourist visa for Bhutan now costs more (2022 update)

Sep 20, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes

Bhutan will reopen its borders to visitors from 22 September 2022. But tourism in the country will look very different. Here's what will change, including the cost.

According to a June 2022 press release from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, tourism in Bhutan will look quite different from September of this year, which is when the country will reopen its borders.

We explain the three reasons for this change. We then look at the ways that these changes to the tourism sector will affect you, the visitor.

Pur. Chele Pass Bhutan flags

Tourists' experiences of Bhutan are going to become more varied from 2022

Three pillars of change

The changes to Bhutan's tourism industry aim to achieve three things:

  1. Higher-quality experiences for tourists.
  2. Better-paying jobs for Bhutanese nationals working in tourism.
  3. A more sustainable form of tourism (economically, socially, culturally and environmentally).
Ours. S. Trekking in bhutan forest,landscape of nature in Bhutan

Bhutan is incredibly committed to conserving its natural environment

Why change anything?

The changes to the tourism industry aren't without controversy. Some think the Government is trying to fix something that wasn't broken.

Dr Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, explains the reasons behind the changes to the country's tourism policies as follows:

COVID-19 has allowed us to reset – to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated, so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically, but socially as well, while keeping carbon footprints low. In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.

The idea is that tourist-facing establishments and services will now have to become more varied, professional and competitive.

Independent travel within Bhutan

A major change to the travel sector is that you can now travel independently within Bhutan. Previously, you couldn't explore the country without a guide and driver accompanying you.

As discussed in The New York Times article Famous for Happiness, and Limits on Tourism, Bhutan Will Triple Fees to Visit, some worry that this move will hurt the workload of guides and drivers. Others argue that it will bring more tourists to the country and that guides will have to become better trained and more competitive.

At Follow Alice we personally believe that local guides enhance a visitor's experience exponentially, while also taking away many stresses and ensuring your safety.

Passang and FA clients Bhutan Tiger-s Nest

A Follow Alice tour group with Passang, our local leader

An increased daily visa fee

Of especial note to potential visitors is the big change in the daily visa fee.

Previously, you had to pay a US$250 daily visa fee just to be in the country. This amount included a $65 sustainable development fee (SDF) that went to the Government. The rest of the amount went to covering your accommodation, food, guide, driver, petrol (fuel) and certain entrance fees. The policy aimed to ensure a minimum daily spend by every visitor in line with its "High value, low volume" tourism policy.

From September 2022, the above-mentioned inclusive daily visa fee comes to an end. In its place, there will be a compulsory daily SDF of US$200 per person. (This is basically three times the cost of the pre-existing SDF.) All other expenses, like accommodation and food, will now be paid directly to the vendors of your choosing.

The new daily fee to be in the country makes travelling to Bhutan more expensive.

Dorji Dhradhul, Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, explains the reason for the SDF price increase as follows:

Our strategy for the revamp of the tourism sector brings us back to our roots, of ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism, where we meet the needs of tourists while protecting our people, culture, values, and environment.

He goes on to say:

Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese. Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations.
Ours. Hotel Lobby Door In Thimphu In Bhutan

Bhutanese culture is steeped in tradition

Again, the change is controversial. Detractors worry that fewer tourists will come because of the heightened daily expense.

The Government argues that the change will encourage more professionalism within the tourism sector, while also allowing visitors a greater range of choice when it comes to various services like dining and accommodation.

Note that Indian nationals will continue to enjoy a special visitor status. They will be charged a different (but as yet undisclosed) SDF.

What are your thoughts? We'd love to hear from you. We'll continue to keep an eye on the visa situation, and update this blog post as and when new developments emerge.

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