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Bhutan Reopens with New Sustainable Tourism Strategy
  • Lacey Pfalz

The Kingdom of Bhutan officially reopens to international travelers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic today, September 22, unveiling a new tourism strategy focusing on sustainable development, infrastructure upgrades and more. Bhutan will raise its Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) from USD$65 to USD$200 per person, per night. This increase in traveler fee will support development projects within the kingdom, including towards free education and healthcare. Some of the funds will also go towards planting trees, helping tourism industry workers to gain more skills, maintaining Bhutan’s trails and more. The country is one of the very few who are carbon negative, and it will continue its efforts of sustainability. Last year, it produced 3.8 million tons of carbon emissions yet sequestered 9.4 million tons of carbon emissions.

“Bhutan’s noble policy of high-value, low-volume tourism has existed since we started welcoming guests to our country in 1974. But its intent and spirit were watered down over the years, without us even realizing it,” said H.E. Dr. Lotay Tshering, the Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan. “Therefore, as we reset as a nation after this pandemic, and officially open our doors to visitors today, we are reminding ourselves about the essence of the policy, the values and merits that have defined us for generations.” Throughout the pandemic, Bhutan upgraded its infrastructure, including tourism facilities like roads, trails, public restrooms and more. Employees in the industry participated in programs to enhance service quality, while many temples and attractions underwent needed maintenance.

Paro Tsechu, Bhutanese festivals, festivals in Bhutan, Bhutan, kingdom of Bhutan, Tourism council of bhutan Mask dancers perform during the annual Paro Tshechu festival in Bhutan. (photo via Tourism Council of Bhutan) The kingdom also unveiled a new brand for the kingdom’s tourism industry: Brand Bhutan. With a focus on the future of the kingdom and its younger generations, Brand Bhutan encourages travelers to believe in transformation.

“We must also ensure that we are a high value society, one that is infused with sincerity, integrity and principles, where people must always live in safe communities, among serene environments and derive comfort from the finest facilities,” continued H.E. Dr. Lotay. “Typically, ‘high value’ is understood as exclusive high-end products and extravagant recreational facilities. But that is not Bhutan. And ‘low volume’ doesn’t mean limiting the number of visitors. We will appreciate everyone who visits us to treasure our values, while we also learn as much from them.”

“If that is what you are searching for, there is no limit or restriction. The best conduit to realizing our vision are our youth and professionals in the tourism industry. While those working in the tourism sector will represent us at the forefront, the entire nation is the tourism industry, and every Bhutanese a host. The minimum fee we are asking our friends to pay is to be reinvested in ourselves, the place of our meeting, which will be our shared asset for generations. Welcome to Bhutan.”