DestinationsWhen the country reopens in September, tourists will need to shell out a higher "sustainable development fee".

Bhutan welcomes tourists again — at a new price

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Travellers to Bhutan will now be free to choose their own operators and plan their own itineraries, upon its reopening.
Travellers to Bhutan will now be free to choose their own operators and plan their own itineraries, upon its reopening. Photo Credit: GettyImages/LuigiFarrauto

Bhutan will finally reopen for international tourists from 23 September after closing its borders more than two years ago, announced the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

In pursuit of its carbon-neutral goals, TCB also announced a more than three-fold increase in the "sustainable development fee" that the Himalayan kingdom has imposed on tourists for the past three decades. From US$65 per tourist per night, the new fee will be revised to US$200 per tourist per night, effective upon reopening.

"Covid-19 has allowed us to reset - to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated... while keeping carbon footprints low," Tandi Dorji, TCB chairman and the country's foreign minister, said in a statement.

Authorities said Bhutan had also revised standards for service providers, such as hotels, guides, tour operators, and drivers. Visitors would now be free to choose their own operators and plan their own itineraries, whereas in the past, only packages offered by designated operators were allowed.

In Bhutan, tourism is a significant source of income for the economy employing around 50,000 people and contributing an annual average of about US$84 million from 2017 to 2019 in direct foreign exchange. The kingdom welcomed its first 300 foreign tourists in 1974. By 2019, according to the TCB, this figure had swelled to 315,600, a 15% increase from the previous year.

The country, with its population of less than 800,000, moved quickly when Covid-19 first struck in March 2020, closing its borders to foreign travellers. Since then, only 60,000 cases and 21 fatalities have been reported in the kingdom.

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