The INR 1,200 per day SDF for Indian tourists is aimed at checking mass tourism which was becoming a major issue in Bhutan.
Bhutan was being sold as a destination cheaper than most mass tourism sites in India like Goa, Manali, Darjeeling etc. by some Indian tour operators.
The result was a mass inflow of tourists which Bhutan was unable to cope with.
Greedy landlords were throwing out families in Thimphu and other places to convert apartments into hotels.
Traffic jams got much worse.
Trash was dumped by tourists everywhere, including holy sites. Bhutanese could no longer visit the holiest of monasteries in peace, but had to contend with tourists.
Thimphu already has water shortage, sewage, trash issues, but all of them got much worse.
Residents did not get drinking water on time but hotels had water for swimming pools.
Bhutan has narrow mountain roads and suddenly these were full of tourist vehicles and bikers.
It was becoming less safe to drive for both locals and inexperienced tourist vehicles.
There were accidents and some deaths too.
There was a huge construction boom of hotels and budget hotels which jacked up land and apartment prices in major urban areas in Bhutan.
Today most Bhutanese cannot even dream of owning a home in urban areas due to these prices.
We were being locked into a mass tourism trap.
All of the above went completely against what Bhutan stands for and makes it unique in the community of nations.
We do not prioritize mindless development or economic growth at the cost of people’s well being, environment, cultural preservation and sustainable development.
It was to prevent mass tourism that Bhutan from the time it opened up to tourism had a SDF rate of USD 65 per day for all other tourists with a minimum package of USD 250 during season and USD 200 during off season.
This was exempted for India, Bangladesh and Maldives. However, it was now clear that the exemption was a mistake as the overwhelming majority of mass tourists were coming from India.
The mass tourism was upending the sustainable ‘high value and low volume’ tourism policy of Bhutan.
Bhutan did not introduce the SDF right away. Given our friendly and close ties with India I believe that Delhi was consulted and the growing problem was laid out.
Valuing Bhutan more as a strategic ally than a cheap tourism destination, Delhi was okay with a reasonable SDF.
The Parliament in 2020 passed a law bringing into effect the INR 1,200 SDF.
It could not be implemented as the pandemic struck and our borders were closed.
Later the USD 65 SDF for all other tourists was increased to USD 200, but the SDF for Indian tourists remains untouched.
In short, American, British, European, Japanese, Chinese tourists all have to pay USD 200 SDF per day or around INR 16,000 where as only Indian tourists have to pay INR 1,200 per day with exemptions for young children.
Bhutan and India are not only close friends but almost like family. I think the majority of Indian tourists and Indians will understand Bhutan’s position and where it is coming from.
I respect Bhutan’s decision to charge a fee for Indian tourists but wish all the teachers who served Bhutan be exempted from this fee as they wish to visit their students and colleagues. It also encourages academic exchange.