Spring season looking up due to SDF and airfare decrease

But more needs to be done to revive the tourism sector

Tour operators are expressing optimism for the upcoming spring season in the country. Initiatives such as a 50 percent discount for dollar-paying tourists introduced in September of the previous year, and the reduction of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) fare from 20 November 2023 have contributed to this positive outlook for the tour operators.

The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) stated, “The recent introduction of the USD 100 Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) and the decrease in airfare for regional tourists appear to be promising. Despite being implemented during the last peak season without much noticeable impact, we remain optimistic about their potential significant effects in the upcoming season.”

Speaking on the new government’s manifesto, which aims to boost annual tourist arrivals to 300,000 and implement focused tourism marketing initiatives, the representative expressed, “The proposals seem promising, and we look forward to collaborating with the new government.”

Karma Lotey, the CEO of Yangphel Adventure Travel, revealed, “The adjustments made to the SDF by the previous government have had a significant positive impact on bookings for the upcoming spring and fall seasons. The reduced SDF has led to a substantial increase in inquiries, allowing us to develop enhanced packages that provide excellent value for money across various tourism products.”

Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks Private Limited stated, “Our company is experiencing a notable upswing in spring season bookings, largely attributed to reduced SDF and airfare costs. This has not only increased our booking numbers but has also simplified our tour package promotions. We anticipate a substantial 60% growth compared to the previous year. In the broader industry context, challenges persist in market penetration and service speed. We advocate for continued government support, suggest the organization of tourism events, boosting MICE tourism, collaborative promotions with bilateral partners, and ensuring 24/7 visa and permit services to address these concerns.”

Anan from Keys to Bhutan expressed, “We anticipates a growth in business this year due to the reduced SDF, and an anticipated rise in regional tourists entering the country via air. We expect the new government to facilitate direct access to the source market, as many businesses currently operate through agents in India or Nepal. We look forward to encouragement and support as the Tour Operators (TOs) in our marketing and promotional efforts from the new government as well.”

The travel manager at Lhomen Tours and Trekking shared, “In comparison to the previous year, the outlook appears much brighter, raising hopes for substantial growth in the tourism industry. We’re anticipating that the new government will prioritize tour operators and provide assistance in promoting tourism.”

Regarding the impending transition to a new government, Karma Lotey said, “As we approach the transition to a new government, there is an anticipation regarding their commitments to the tourism industry and the overall business environment. Stakeholders eagerly await the realization of pledges, including the goal of attracting a minimum of 300,000 tourists and addressing challenges in the ease of doing business.”

He said immediate actions, such as reinstating tourist entry and exit from the east (Samdrupjongkhar), opening additional gateways, like Samtse and Gelephu, expediting new tourism products, facilitating lodge-based trekking, enhancing birding, and promoting other adventure tourism activities are deemed crucial.

“Moreover, stakeholders emphasize the need to revive the campaign for a clean Bhutan, addressing the escalating issue of trash and litter. Lastly, the tourism stakeholders request a call for a meeting to share proposals, suggestions, and engage in discourse, similar to the collaborative efforts during the campaign period,” added the Yangphel Adventure Travel CEO.

In terms of tourist statistics, the figures from September 2022 to December 2023 indicate a total of 123,963 tourists, with 83,812 paying in INR and 40,151 paying in dollars.

 According to the Department of Tourism, a total of 21,154 tourists visited Bhutan between March and April 2023, comprising 7,684 dollar-paying tourists and 13,470 regional tourists.

These numbers are expected to go up this time around.

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