On September 23, Bhutan reopened its borders to international tourists with an increased fee of USD 200 per person per night, up from the previous USD 65. The country now holds the title of the most expensive country in the world as the price no longer includes accommodation, travel or entry fees to iconic buildings and museums.
Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tshering said that the Kingdom’s policy of high-quality, low-volume tourism has existed since Bhutan started welcoming guests to our country in 1974. “But his intention and spirit have been diluted over the years without us even recognizing it,” Tshering said. The prime minister said people entering Bhutan do not have to undergo a PCR test but must be fully vaccinated.
We remember the essence of politics, the values and merits that have defined us for generations
Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of Bhutan
Tshering explained that the goal of the Sustainable Development Fee is to reinvest the proceeds in the future of the people of Bhutan. “While those who work in the tourism sector will represent us on the front lines, the entire nation is the tourism industry and every Bhutanese is a host,” Tshering said. “The minimum fee we ask of our friends is to be reinvested in ourselves, the place of our meeting that will be our common good for generations to come.”
Bhutan is one of the most unique countries in the world, thanks largely to its geographic location in the heart of the Himalayas and wedged between India and Tibet. However, its seclusion is also due to a tourism policy of low visitor numbers with high purchasing power.
The country received its first tourists in 1974 during high season (March-May and September-November) and low season (December-February and June-August). The fee used to include accommodation, meals, transfers, tours and entrance fees to monuments; Everything was managed by an official tour operator and part was dedicated exclusively to sustainable development and protection of natural resources. Bhutan has managed to preserve beliefs, traditions, temples and peoples that don’t seem to have changed for centuries.
Tourism Ministry officials see the new regulations as a way to reduce the carbon footprint, improve travelers’ experiences (more sustainable accommodation, road infrastructure, among others) and provide Bhutanese with better working conditions.
The isolated and mountainous kingdom, with a population of barely 800,000 people, has always been wary of large visitor numbers to avoid negative impacts on its ecology and culture. However, following the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, after the first case was detected in a US citizen, Bhutan closed its borders.
Tourism is an essential part of the country’s economy. The number of foreign tourists fell by 91 percent, from over 315,000 in 2019 to around 30,000 in the following year. The tourism sector also suffered an 88 percent drop in sales in 2020 due to measures against Covid-19, according to data from the Tourism Council of Bhutan.