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Bhutan ends free entry for Indian tourists, imposes Rs 1200 daily as ‘SDF’

Ending decades of free entry to Indian visitors to Himalayan Nation, the Bhutanese government will now impose daily SDF on Regional Tourists. A fee called a ‘Sustainable Development Fee’ (SDF) of Rs 1200 (US $17) will be charged to regional tourists probably from July 2020. Regional tourists refers to tourists from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

So far, regional tourists from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives were exempted to pay US $250 that other nationals had to pay. They don’t have to go via the US $250 tour package and do not require a visa, unlike others.

Tiger’s Nest

On Tuesday, the National assembly of Bhutan passed the new legislation, titled “Tourism Levy Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020”. This was introduced to amend the Tourism Levy Exemption (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018. The new section states that a regional leisure tourist from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives shall be liable to pay the tourism levy per night halt. A fee of Ngultrums 1200 must be paid per day per person as SDF.

However, the new levy will not be applicable across Bhutan. As tourists mainly visits the more popular western region of Bhutan. To promote tourism in less popular eastern reason of Bhutan as well, SDF will not be applicable on tourists traveling to 11 of 20 total districts within the east from Trongsa to Trashigang. Also, Children below the age of five are exempted from the levy and those between 6 and 12 years will be required to pay only ₹600.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the current tourism policy, only International tourists are levied daily SDF of USD 65. In orrder to make Bhutan exotic or preferred destination, a daily SDF of USD 16.25 is proposed for regional tourists as well.

Earlier Scenario

The Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian nationals were exempted to pay US $250. With exception of these three countries, all international tourists visiting Bhutan had to pay daily US $250 per person. This covers a US $65 “tourism levy” or SDF, accommodation, transport within Bhutan, a tourist guide, food and non-alcoholic drinks, entry fee and fee for tourist’s visa.

Reason to Impose SDF on Regional Tourist

With new tourism policy, the government is seeking to regulate the massive influx of tourist. According to a data, approximately 2,74,000 tourists visited Bhutan in 2018. Of these, 66% tourists numbering 1,80,000 were from India. Indian tourist being exempted from paying any SDF, VISA fee, and other expenditure, a huge source of potential revenue was going untapped.

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