Major changes coming to the SDF soon

The Prime Minister (PM) held a discussion with the members of the Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) to find ways to address the problems of the private sector.

During the meeting, the PM shared that the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) will no longer be applicable for non-tourists and the plan is to look into incentivizing longer stays.

PM reiterated that the SDF scheme is meant for tourists. “SDF is for the tourists. We have been charging the SDF to those who came for business, those who came to explore investments. Now, it will not be applicable for those who are travelling for non-tourist activities.”

The application of SDF to all foreign visitors except for state guests has hampered the private sector, CSOs and others in bringing in experts, investors and others.

He added that the immigration office, Ministry of Foreign and External Trade, and the Department of Tourism are currently working on the changes, and will make the announcements accordingly.

For tourism business to truly become the engine of growth and make an impact in the economy, Jigme Tshering, the Chairman of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) offered a few recommendations during the meeting with the PM.

“For tourism to be the engine of growth and recovery, it would be better to concentrate on the incentive points for the travellers themselves or the travel agency. Incentivizing the longer stays, incentivizing different packages when travellers come in, and to find a different marketing culture and connectivity to the travellers.”

With regards to that, PM indicated that they are looking at ways to incentivize longer stays for the tourists.

It is understood that the Tourism Department is working on this.

The government earlier waived off SDF for casual visitors for up to 24 hours in border towns of Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar, so long as they do not travel beyond the designated zone of the border towns.

The Bhutanese earlier reported that an initiative is being considered for the whole country, which is to waive off SDF after a number of days. For example, if a tourist comes for a longer stay, say for 10 days, then he will can stay five days without having to pay the SDF.

The PM also shared that our tourism is marketed as high end and exclusive, and is looking into reinvesting the money to enhance competent skills and to reduce the attrition rate.

“We need a window to plough back the principal. Say, if one has a hotel and through one’s skills and promotion, if they’re able to bring more tourists then more money will be ploughed back to the hotel. It will be to professionalize the staff, and then be able to retain the employees.”

He added that doing this will be more profitable to the government, and the people as they will be able to earn more.

With regards to the rating of hotels, PM shared that the Blue Poppy ratings are done away with. The ratings of hotels will start from Star 1 and all tourists will be eligible to stay.

He also added that homestays, such as heritage homes, which has more than 100 years of history with three-four generations family staying there will be certified as Homestay Blue Poppy, and are to be promoted by the Department of Tourism. These are some of the suggestions being looked into it.

PM also shared that with regards to allowing Indian tourists to buy gold in Indian Rupee (INR), the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) is working on it. 

Other issues raised by the members were also discussed during the meeting. With regards to import of expatriate workers, PM shared that restrictions of expatriate workers have been lifted and added that he’s looking into the cooling period of workers of 6 months with the Immigration Office.

With regards to automobile sector being asked to move away from the Olakha area, PM shared that he’s looking at ways to help them.

Other common matters regarding private businesses were all looked into, and PM promised that he would help those that he can, provided it is within his authority to do so.

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