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Context: Ending decades of free entry to Indian tourists visiting Bhutan, the government in Thimphu has decided to levy a daily Rs 1,200 ($17) fee for “regional tourists” from India, the Maldives and Bangladesh, beginning July 2020.


The fee, which is hailed as a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), is basically meant to help the government deal with increasing numbers in tourist traffic, which it is seeking to regulate through a new tourism policy.

The decision is passed following the ‘Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan’, 2020. However, it is to be noted that the SDF is considerably lower than the $65 charged to other foreign tourists, who are also charged a compulsory flat “cover charge” of $250 per day.

The more developed Western region of Bhutan has been the major tourist destination for Indians. Hence, in a move to promote tourism in Bhutan’s eastern region as well, the government has decided to drop SDF charges for tourists visiting 11 of 20 total districts that fall in the east from Trongsa to Trashigang. 

Children from IndiaMaldives and Bangladesh under the age of 5 will not have to pay the levy and those between 6 and 12 years will be required to pay only Rs 600.

In 2018, of the total 2,74,000 tourists visiting Bhutan, the council estimated that about 2,00,000 were from the region, of which about 1,80,000 were from India. In contrast to other international tourists, who pay $250 (Approx. Rs 18,000) as a minimum charge per day per person, which includes a $65 a day “Sustainable Development Fee”, as well as a $40 visa charge, tourists from IndiaBangladesh and the Maldives had so far paid no fees, and were able to cross over without visas, something that is now set to change.

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