Guwahati: Bhutan, which reopened its border for tourists on September 23 this year after a gap of over two years following the Covid-10 pandemic, has witnessed a significant drop in tourist footfall thanks to the Himalayan nation’s new tourism rules.

Hit hard by the pandemic, the country’s tourism industry hoped for a revival after the reopening of the gates for visitors but minimal tourist footfall has left the people involved in the tourism sector worried a lot.

Official sources said the number of tourists to the Country declined due to the new tourism policy. According to the new rule, now Indian tourists have to pay Rs 1,200 per night.

International tourists, excluding Indian visitors, have to pay a fee of $200 per night.

“There is a significant drop in Indian tourists after the Bhutan government imposed the sky-high sustainable development fee on visitors. The high fee has deterred many Indian tourists from traveling the country,” said a Bhutan government official, who did not wish to be named.

According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) data, around 315,600 tourists visited in 2019, with visitors contributing about $84 million on average each year to the economy for the three years before the pandemic hit.

TCB data further show, before the pandemic around 3,000 tourists used to visit the country to see its famous Thimphu Tshechu festival started in the last week of September.

The country decided to reopen its borders on September 23 this year, as it coincides with the three-day festival.

However, this year, the country failed to get the targeted tourist footfall during the festival.

For any visitors who enter Bhutan via the land borders, guides are mandatory when the visitors leave the border towns, which is also one of the reasons behind the slide.

It may be mentioned that Bhutan gets the highest tourist footfall from India. In 2020 alone, out of the 29,812 tourist arrivals in Bhutan, around 22,298 were from India.  Most of the Indian tourists enter Bhutan via the land borders and they have to pay an additional amount to the guide.

Minimal footfall has affected tour operators from India as well as Bhutan. It has also hit hard the low-cost hotel and home-stay owners and the guides of the Himalayan country besides the local economy.  

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