Stuck in the mountainous recesses between India and China, Bhutan is a particular mix. This is Shangri-la incarnate, the last Buddhist Himalayan kingdom, a high, misty, sequestered world of chanting monks and mountaintop monasteries, where the Gross National Happiness Index replaces Gross Domestic Product as the yardstick for success. national.
Bhutan protects its unique cultural and natural heritage with a high-value, low-volume tourism policy that requires minimal daily spending from visitors, and it has just tightened the screws. Bhutan has increased its mandatory Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for foreign visitors from US$65 (A$94) to US$200 (A$290) per day. This will bring the daily fee foreigners have to pay to US$335-$385 ($485-$558) depending on the season, but it covers the cost of transportation, food, accommodation and a guide.
This decision has sounded the alarm in the tourism industry. Sydney-based World Expeditions, which has been running Bhutan tours for more than a decade, is pushing for a restructuring of the SDF based on how long travelers spend in Bhutan. According to a World Expeditions spokesperson, “On average, our customers spend at least two and up to four weeks in the country. Since trekking expeditions have a longer duration, World Expeditions fears that the increase n have a major impact on trekking in Bhutan. One of our most popular treks is the 27-day Bhutan Snowman trek. The price hike means customers will now pay almost $17,000, instead of the current cost from $11,190. While Bhutan offers a rich experience, it is becoming a destination for only the wealthy, contradicting the ideology of inclusive and sustainable tourism.”
However, not all foreign visitors pay the same fees. Instead of the newly increased sustainability fee of US$200 ($290), Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders will continue to pay an SDF of 1,200 rupees ($22) per day. This was only introduced in July 2020, before there was no homeless for visitors from the subcontinent. They also don’t pay the minimum daily fee of US$135–185 ($195–268) per day for food, transportation, and lodging in addition to the homeless. A group of Indians or Bangladeshis traveling together pays local operators directly for these goods and services, which can add around INR 2,000 ($36) per day to the SDF. The same package for which a non-subcontinental visitor pays about eight times more.
In 2019, of the 315,000 foreigners who visited Bhutan, more than three-quarters came from India or Bangladesh. There is a risk that the greatly increased SDF will crowd out high paying tourists who are not from the Indian subcontinent as the number of Indian and Bangladeshi tourists remains constant or even increases to fill the void. As well as hampering the country’s tourism industry as it struggles to recover after two years of inactivity, the rise in SDF calls into question the credibility of Bhutan’s high-value, low-volume tourism ethos. .
Are access rights the solution to overtourism?
Access fees work. This was proven to me at the Chand Baori stepwell in Rajasthan, India. It is the mother of all Indian stepwells, 13 stories of stone terraces linked by stairs leading down to the pool at the bottom, like an inverted step pyramid sunk into the earth. In 2016, when I first visited, there were less than half a dozen visitors admiring this marvel. Admission was free, you just walk in. Soon after, Chand Baori was “discovered”. In 2018, the street in front of the well was crowded with tourist buses. More than 200 foreign tourists strolled on the upper terrace of the stepwell. A year later, the scene has changed. Local authorities had imposed an admission fee of 300 rupees ($5.40) and Chand Baori had left the tour bus circuit.
Venice also imposes an access fee, although on a much smaller scale than Bhutan. In this case, it is also selective, directly targeting the large number of day-trippers who visit the city – nearly 20 million in 2019. These visitors contribute little to the city’s tourist industry, but they crowd the square Saint-Marc, obstruct the bridges and a small but annoying number raises the nose of the inhabitants.
From mid-January 2023, Venice will charge an entry fee for day visitors of €3-10 ($4.50-$15) depending on the season. The objective is to dissuade the excursionists rather than to bail out the coffers of the city. It’s a modest price, but since most of these day trippers are Italian, the city authorities can be cautious. There are many galleries and museums throughout Italy that charge more than this, but once introduced it is easy to increase the charge until it has the desired effect.
An entrance fee is simple in the case of Venice. Most visitors will arrive by train or motor vehicle across the causeway and so it is easy to fit a porter to ensure they have paid before boarding a ferry to the island.
A pay-as-you-go system could work in Dubrovnik, another city plagued by overtourism. Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, the walled city was a shoo-in for a place on the World Heritage List. As well as earning the city a starring role as King’s Landing in the Game of Thrones series, Dubrovnik’s Baroque churches, stone staircases, fountains and squares have made it a favorite on the cruise circuit. . In 2016, UNESCO warned that visitor pressures were jeopardizing the city’s World Heritage status, recommending that the city limit visitor numbers to 8,000 per day. Cruise operators have agreed to limit the number of ships to two per day, with a combined maximum of 5,000 passengers. For now, this has limited visitor numbers to manageable levels, although the Croatian tourism industry has yet to recover its pre-pandemic numbers.
Amsterdam is another city that suffers from the scourge of being loved to death. The Dutch capital has taken a different approach, adapting the type of tourists it attracts by cauterizing some of its libertarian attractions. Along with banning landlords from renting downtown properties on Airbnb and other accommodation platforms, the city plans to move its infamous red-light district to its outskirts. Another move in a series of moves to limit the city’s appeal to the kind of tourists it really doesn’t want, Amsterdam’s mayor is pushing to ban cafes from selling cannabis products to tourists. The destitute could always head to Bhutan instead, it grows wild and free, although consumption may land you in a very un-Shangri-la Bhutanese prison.