Angle: Bhutan tourism tax, seeking environmental and economic balance | Reuters

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the picturesque Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, cleaners patrol forests and trails looking for rubbish left by tourists, empty water bottles and snacks stuck in bushes and trees, and remove the bag.

On August 31, in the picturesque Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, cleaners patrolled forests and trails, looking for rubbish left by tourists and removing empty water bottles and snack bags stuck in bushes and trees. A temple near Kathmandu in February 2011. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

The cleaning team is funded by the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), a tourist tax that Bhutan has levied for decades. The tax is aimed at avoiding overtourism and maintaining its status as South Asia’s only “carbon negative country” (a country that absorbs more greenhouse gases than it emits each year).

Bhutan halved its SDF to $100 a day last week. They strive to strike a balance between supporting local economies and jobs while protecting nature and the environment.

Bhutanese government officials told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the tax would be used to improve infrastructure, preserve nature and culture, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, based on the principle of “high-value, low-flow” tourism. He said the money would be used to invest in electric mobility.

It is true that this small country with a population of less than 800,000 people is currently attracting attention, but this is not just a Bhutan problem.

Countries around the world are looking to revive tourism in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. There is also growing debate about how best to attract more tourists and generate revenue without causing overcrowding or exacerbating pollution and negative environmental impacts.

Sustainability experts say the traditional way of measuring tourism based solely on visitor numbers is outdated and harmful to the industry. It urged the government to consider how to accommodate tourists, encouraging them to stay longer and more attentively.

“The SDF is a way to ensure that tourist destinations are not destroyed,” CI said. B. Deputy Chairman Ram Kumar said. It’s also a “good way to protect nature,” he said.

Many countries and cities have introduced some form of tourism tax, but few have been as strict as Bhutan in allocating tax revenues to conservation and sustainable development initiatives.

New Zealand introduced a NZ$35 tourism tax in 2019 to fund conservation and infrastructure projects. The Indonesian resort island of Bali plans to levy a tourist tax of 1.5 million rupees (about 1,400 yen) from 2024 to help preserve its culture and environment.


According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism accounts for approximately 8-11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from transportation.

Tourism is also one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate change, with researchers saying rising temperatures and sea levels could affect visitor numbers.

For example, in July, a wildfire in Rhodes, Greece, destroyed resorts and hotels, and about 20,000 foreign tourists were evacuated.

According to recent surveys and industry executives, the demand for ecotourism in general is growing, but few are willing to pay more for sustainable travel.

Bhutan has continuously revised the SDF over the years, introducing exemptions and exemptions for long-stay tourists.

When it reopened to visitors last September after being closed for more than two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, SDF raised prices from $65 to $200 in nearly 30 years.

However, due to tax increases and the impact of the epidemic, the number of tourists has been hit, and domestic travel agencies, hotels, handicraft and souvenir shops have suffered losses.

Some 60,000 tourists visited Bhutan between January and August this year, bringing in $13.5 million in tax revenue for the Bhutan Self-Defense Forces, government figures show. In 2019, before the outbreak, it received approximately 316,000 visitors and SDF revenue was $88.6 million.

When it lowered the SDF this month, the government said it aimed to revive tourism, create jobs and earn foreign exchange.

Bhutan plans to increase tourism’s contribution to the country’s $3 billion economy to 20 percent from the current 5 percent.

Dorji Doradur, head of the Bhutan Tourism Board, said in an email that the SDF is crucial for Bhutan to step up conservation efforts as the country faces threats from climate change, including melting glaciers and unpredictable weather. important. “For our future, we need to preserve our heritage and forge new paths for future generations,” he said.

Bhutan’s ‘decarbonisation’ approach began in the 1970s. The king at the time sought to build the economy through sustainable forest management that balanced conservation and development.

Bhutan’s forests absorb more than 9 million tons of carbon every year. Doradour said the Bhutanese economy aims to reduce the use and waste of fossil fuels, so carbon emissions will remain below 4 million tonnes.


Bhutan has long been a major holiday destination, especially for Indian tourists. Indians used to be able to enter for free, but a daily tax of 1,200 rupees (about 2,100 yen) was imposed last year.

Tourism officials say Indian tourists have become a problem by littering, climbing Buddhist buildings and taking pictures. Travel bookings cannot be made from India due to the imposition of this tax.

The tax on Indian tourists will remain unchanged for at least two years as Bhutan prioritizes the environment, culture and people’s well-being over “tourism volume”, said Doradur of the Bhutan Tourism Board.

Tourism taxes are being considered in more and more places around the world, but they risk locking out those who want to enjoy affordable travel.

Jigme Cherin, president of the Bhutan Hotel and Restaurant Association, said the SDF was in line with the country’s sustainable development vision, but there were challenges in terms of “impact on business”.

He said he hoped the tax cuts would accelerate tourism growth. Local businesses looking for more customers and revenue feel similarly.

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