Tourism reality

A recent upbeat Tourism Department press release announced 52,173 tourists came from 23 September 2022 to 10th May 2023 and in so many words indicated things are improving and going well.

It said 32,517 are Indian guests paying the INR 1,200 SDF while 19,656 are other tourists paying either the old SDF rate of USD 65 or the new SDF of USD 200.

Firstly, it is disingenuous to send tourism figures covering two years when the focus should be on tourism numbers in 2023.

The 2023 data shows that from January to 10th May 31,276 toursts came. Of this there were 21,364 Indian tourists while the share of other tourists was only 9,912. Of the 9,912 tourists there were 3,684 paying the old USD 65 SDF rate and 6,228 paying the new SDF rate of USD 200.

There is nothing much to celebrate looking at the 2023 figures. The sharp rise in Indian tourists while welcome is not accompanied with a similar rise in other tourists. It would be even lesser if not for the USD 65 SDF tourists left over from last year’s bookings.

When it comes to the Indian tourists the reality is that hotels are desperate in Bhutan and are giving very concessional rates to the extent that the INR 1,200 SDF is absorbed largely by the room discounts.

Even when we look at the 9,912 other tourists it includes a fair number of people who are not tourists and who would not have paid SDF in the past except for the very strict rules now that mandate almost all foreign visitors to pay SDF.

The first step to make changes is to accept reality. The reality is that if we don’t make drastic changes in our tourism sector soon then the upcoming autumn season and also the spring season next year will also be washed out. As pointed out by this paper in the past this will have grave implications on our financial system given the huge loans owed by the hotels.

Our current numbers show that the numbers of Indian tourists will expand, but not that of other international tourists.

Instead of trying to hide reality the need of the hour is to give a 50 percent waiver on the USD 200 SDF per day along with various other incentives to attract tourists. The unreasonable airfare also needs to be looked at along with monument fees and others.

The other option is to send upbeat press releases until a monumental disaster strikes us all down.

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.
Jack Welch

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