The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan reopens to tourism on Friday after two and a half years of border closures, but 35-year-old tour guide and driver Pema Wangyal doesn’t have any jobs lined up just yet. Nor is he expecting to for at least a few weeks.
There are many factors slowing the recovery of Asian tourism. Nestled between China and India, Bhutan may have just added one of its own: a daily fee of $200, imposed on anyone who wants to enter, for the length of their stay. The country was already well known for requiring visitors to spend at least $250 a day, but that sum went toward accommodation, food, transport, and the government’s “sustainable development fee.”
The new, additional $200 impost buys nothing except the privilege of enjoying Bhutan’s stunning scenery and fresh mountain air.
Wangyal understands the latest charge is meant to be a disincentive. Before the pandemic closed the country’s borders, “It was getting a little crowded,” he grants. “Bhutan is a very small country.” But he’s also worried about what it will mean for him. “I think very few tourists are coming over the next few weeks. I don’t think many guides will be employed right after the reopening, we’ll have to sit and wait.”