Travel News

Bhutan’s tourism tax – elitist ruse or the blueprint for the future of sustainable travel?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Touching down at Bhutan’s only international airport, which boasts one of the most difficult approaches in the world, is a heart-in-the-mouth experience. But it’s not the only explanation for visitors’ emotional responses to this tiny kingdom on the eastern edge of the Himalayas.

In the serene valley of Punakha, a dzong – a traditional fortress now serving as an administrative and religious centre – overlooks the confluence of two mountain rivers. Scarlet-clad teenage monks play elongated temple horns, a bodhi tree stands in the centre of the courtyard and inside the temple a Buddha gazes down as if he only has eyes for you.

The cultural appeal of the country – prayer flags, 4K colour and a deep spirituality – is bound up with its serious embrace of environmental stewardship. In another valley, Phobjikha, a favourite wintering place for the globally threatened black-necked crane, power lines were laid underground to minimise collisions, and every November a local festival celebrates the birds’ arrival from Tibet. And while potato farms surround the cranes’ marshy habitat, there are protections in place to prevent more land being drained for agricultural use. The cranes still can be observed at close quarters here and, whatever the season, the bowl-shaped valley is an unspoiled and uncrowded setting for hiking and communing with nature.

Bhutanese volunteers, always in orange, helping on a building project

(Sean Sheehan)

Tourism on a large scale would seriously threaten all of this. Such a concern is part of the thinking behind Bhutan’s Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). At $100 (£78) per day it’s the most expensive tourist tax in the world, and is a pure tax, paid up front, irrespective of accommodation, food, flights and other costs.

Bhutan is an expensive destination quite apart from the tax, with tourists having to shoulder the expense of travelling with a guide and driver (a service usually arranged via a tour agency, which also adds extra costs). This undoubtedly deters many from visiting – but if, like a safari or scuba diving holiday, Bhutan is regarded as a place reserved for the well-off, the imposition of an extra $100 a day is hardly something for the non-affluent to lose sleep over.

Read more on how Dubai is protecting its last patch of pristine desert

Accommodation in Phobjikha caters mainly to the…

Click Here to Read the Full Original Article at The Independent Travel…