Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom set in the Himalayan mountains between India and China, is known for its cliff-clinging monasteries, lush lowland jungles, peaceful population, and cautious approach to tourism.
Foreigners have only been allowed to visit Bhutan since 1974—and there’s always been a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) that visitors have needed to pay to the government as part of a “High Value, Low Volume” tourism policy. Prepandemic, that rate was $65 a day. Shortly before Bhutan reopened for tourism in September 2022, the Department of Tourism announced that the fees for visiting would triple, going to $200 per day. However, now Bhutan’s government has reversed course, saying travelers can avoid paying some of the daily tourism fees if they spend five nights or more in the country.
Travelers who pay the SDF for the first four days of their trip can stay an additional four days without paying the daily levy, according to an announcement from the Department of Tourism. Additionally, those who pay to stay for seven nights can get the following seven nights levy-free, and those who pay for 12 nights don’t have to pay for the following 18.
The policy change was made to enable “guests to discover more of what this diverse kingdom offers and encourage more long-stay travelers,” especially considering the length of time it takes to move even short distances in this mountainous country.
“Taking advantage of this incentive allows nature lovers to venture into the farthest corners of Bhutan’s wilderness to spot some of the world’s rarest birds and mammals; avid trekkers to explore the newly restored Trans Bhutan trail or the famed Snowman Trek; or the culturally inclined to sample all the flavors, festivals and restorative pace of life in Bhutan’s remote villages—from east to west, and north to south,” the Department of Tourism said in a statement.
Those who have already booked travel to Bhutan can still take advantage of the new program by canceling their visa and reapplying for a new one.
With the announcement of the new visa scheme, the Department of Tourism also shared that visitors now have the opportunity to plant a tree while in Bhutan to help the country, which will count toward its goal of 1 million new trees. According to the press release, any travelers who want to plant a tree will be given a sapling, though there aren’t yet further details on how to request one.
Its environment is something that Bhutan has long protected—its constitution even mandates that 60 percent of the country’s landmass must be protected forest. Because of that, Bhutan is currently the only carbon-negative country in the world. Still, the government said that because of the intensifying threat of climate change (the nation is vulnerable to frequent floods), Bhutan would increase its efforts to keep the country carbon negative.
Bhutan is consistently one of the least-visited countries. In 2019, roughly 316,000 tourists visited Bhutan. Of those, only about 72,199 people were from a country other than India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives (countries that weren’t previously required to pay the minimum daily rate but will be paying a smaller tourism fee going forward; the sum hasn’t yet been announced). Still, as for most countries, tourism is an important economic factor.
“Tourism is a strategic and valuable national asset, one that does not only impact those working in the sector but all Bhutanese,” said Dorji Dhradhul, director general of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, in a press release. “Ensuring its sustainability is vital to safeguarding future generations.”