Bhutan reopens its borders with ‘transformative’ sustainability plan for tourism Bhutan reopens its borders with ‘transformative’ sustainability plan for tourism

After nearly three years of closure, the Buddhist kingdom is finally reopen to international travel with a refreshed take on its sustainable tourism strategy…
23 September 2022

After nearly three years of closure, Bhutan has finally reopened its doors to international travellers for the first time since the breakout of coronavirus. 

From today (23 September) foreign visitors are once again able to fly into Paro airport and explore the beautiful Buddhist kingdom located within the Himalayan mountains.  

Those who visit will be able to experience the country’s extraordinary sacred temples, ancient monuments and culture and nature trails, which were all closed and upgraded during the pandemic.

Bhutan does return with a slight difference, however. The nation has always had sustainability at its core, but this has now been pushed to the forefront of its new ‘transformative’ tourism model.

Infrastructures such as monastery’s have been upgraded during the pandemic (Shutterstock)

Commenting on Bhutan’s long-running ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism strategy, the country’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said: “Its intent and spirit were watered down over the years, without us even realising it. Therefore, as we reset as a nation after this pandemic, and officially open our doors to visitors today, we are reminding ourselves about the essence of the policy, the values and merits that have defined us for generations.”

Part of the Bhutan’s plan to honour its sustainability values has meant a rise in cost for travellers. The country recently announced that its Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) will rise from $65 per person, per night to $200.

The fees raised from visitors will go towards funding programmes that preserve Bhutan’s cultural traditions and upgrade its infrastructure. Furthermore, it will also provide opportunities for local youth, free healthcare, and education for everyone.

As a country that is vulnerable to climate change, with melting glaciers, flooding and unpredictable weather conditions, money raised from the SDF will most importantly go towards Bhutan’s sustainability projects. An example of this is offsetting the carbon footprint of its visitors by planting trees, upskilling workers, managing and cleaning trails and reducing the country’s need for fossil fuels. 

The Trans Bhutan Trail is part of the country’s recent developments (Shutterstock)

Bhutan will also be taking extra care to maintain its status as one of the world’s only carbon-negative countries. In 2021, they sequestered 9.4 million tonnes of carbon against its emission capacity of 3.8 million tonnes.

Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dorji Dhradhul, said: “Beyond protecting Bhutan’s natural environment, the SDF will also be directed towards activities that preserve Bhutan’s built and living cultural heritage, including architecture and traditional values, as well as meaningful environmental projects. Our future requires us to protect our heritage, and to forge fresh pathways for forthcoming generations.”

“We need tourism to not only benefit Bhutan economically, but socially as well, while maintaining our low sustainable footprint.

He continued: “The goal of our new strategy is to create high value experiences for guests, in addition to well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.  This is our moment of evolution, and we invite our guests to become our partners in this transformative moment.”

The new model also aims to heighten the overall experience of visitors to its country. This can be through elevated quality of service, overall cleanliness, less cars on roads and reduced tourists at its most attractive sacred sites. “By doing so, we protect the experience for visitors to Bhutan, as we must be able to provide authentic experiences supported by world-class services and personal care”, concluded Tandi Dorji, Bhutan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

People in masks performing a traditional dance in Bhutan (Shutterstock)

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