Photo Courtesy: Department of Tourism

PM says no plan to revise Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan despite tinkering

The Dramedtse-Ngatshang Constituency MP Ugyen Wangdi said that Bhutan will have graduated by 2024 and in 2034 Bhutan aims to be among the high income countries.

He said if Bhutan’s income is to be increased then internal sources are not enough and so external revenue is needed and one of them is tourism.

He said with that in mind the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan was adopted by increasing the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) to US$ 200 per day.

However, he said the SDF rates have been changed and it was done so that even after a year there are still tourists coming in at the old rate of USD 65, while others do not get a chance and so there is a problem.

He said even after a year if the full SDF cannot be applied then the situation looks to remain the same.

He said the changes in the tax and levy rates can only be changed by Parliament, and he had pointed in the past there would be issues but the majority did not agree.

The MP asked if the Act needs to be revised and if there are issues then the SDF could be reduced. He asked the government to inform the house on this matter and if there is a need to revise the Act.

The Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said there are no problems with the Tourism Levy Act and only small changes which have been made as per the prevailing situation is also as per the Act.

He said while any MP has the right to bring amendments or new laws but the government has no plans to amend the act.

He said the situation is like a kid learning to walk and so if any plan is to work it needs strong support and must be made to realize its aim. He said results cannot be achieved if there is speculation before hand.

The PM said the small changes have been brought about my public notification and it is not changing the aim of the Act but adapting to the situations.

The PM said that Asian visitors at the most stay 4 days and so to encourage them to stay longer 4 more days are being offered with no SDF.

He said American and European tourists at the least stay 7 days and so there is no SDF for 7 more days.

The PM said that tourists who come trekking like Trans Bhutan Train and Snowman trek stay for a month or less and so it is too expensive to pay USD 200 per day, and so if the full SDF is paid for the first 12 days then there is no SDF for the remaining 18 days.

Lyonchhen said that the SDF has not been decreased but only discounts given.

He said this is one of the new strategies.

The PM said that the people think that the less number of tourists coming are due to the SDF and it may be so, but world over the tourisms sector is recovering and there are only one or two countries where tourists have reached the pre-pandemic levels.

He said similarly the numbers in Bhutan are going up on a monthly basis.

The PM said that from the time tourism opened in September last year there have been around 52,000 tourists who have come in. He said around 10,000 are from the old SDF and the old rate is valid till the end of 2023 for those who did the booking early.

The PM said he is aware that the tourism sector is not doing well and so they are constantly meeting them and bringing changes, but right now it is not the time to amend the Act.

He said later any law can be changed but it is not yet time to change the Act.

The PM said the many changes in policies will help the nation and the change in tourism policy will have a major positive impact and he thanked those who can see that.

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