Planning to go to Bhutan? Pay ‘sustainability fees’ starting this July
The happiest country in the world has put their foot down when it comes to preserving their ecology and environment
Travel lovers were a bit disappointed when news came out in November 2019 that Bhutan is planning to impose a ‘kind-of’ hefty sustainability development fee and permit processing fee’. These charges were to be levied on tourists travelling from India, Maldives and Bangladesh. This measure was said to be implemented owing to the rising influx of tourists especially from the said countries.
On 3rd Feb, 2020, Bhutan's lower house passed a legislation making it mandatory for visitors from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives to pay a fee of ₹1200 per day for its "sustainable development" from July this year. The Himalayan kingdom, which is concerned about its ecology and environment, decided to impose the fee following an increase in Indian tourists. There was a ten per cent hike in the number of tourists from the three countries who visited Bhutan in 2018.
Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world. They developed Gross National Happiness index based on four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance. So, the SDF – Sustainability Development Feee has been levied after incidents of tourists violating law and order, showing disrespect towards Bhutan’s local traditions and customs were reported.
Government sources in New Delhi said, the 'Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020' which the National Assembly of Bhutan is still discussing, imposes a "nominal" fee to develop tourism facilities and infrastructure. The bill includes additional provisions for visit of tourists from the region to Bhutan. The Bhutanese authorities have assured the Indian government that "tourists from India would not be inconvenienced in the course of the implementation of the new regulation".
Bhutan has built sustainability into its national identity. Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s Former Prime Minister said at a 2016 TED Talk,“Our enlightened monarchs have worked tirelessly to develop our country, balancing economic growth carefully with social development, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation, all within the framework of good governance.”
The imposition of sustainability fees does not come as a surprise. The constitution mandates that 60 percent of its landmass be maintained and protected as forest. In this case, one cannot expect the Bhutan Government to do nothing, if the reported incidents of tourists violating law and order, and not showing respect towards Bhutan’s local traditions and customs were true.
The sustainability fee which will be used to develop tourism facilities and infrastructure will now also aid in keeping Bhutan's environment protected from 'damage'.