Bhutan is introducing a “sustainable development fee” for regional tourists following a rise in Indian visitors that has sparked worries for the unique Himalayan kingdom’s cherished ecology.
The majority of tourists already cough up $250 a day in high season – including meals, transport, and accommodation – to visit the country of 750,000 people famous for putting happiness before economic growth and being carbon negative.
But this “high value, low impact” strategy has come under strain in recent years because of a sharp rise in visitors from its southern neighbour India – who are exempt from the levy.
On Monday, Bhutan’s lower house of Parliament passed legislation meaning visitors from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives have to pay a fee of 1,200 ngultrums ($16.85) a day from July.
In 2018, Bhutan received 200,000 visitors from countries in the region, up nearly 10 percent from 2017, sparking fears that it was becoming just another mass tourism destination.