Written by Staff Writer at CNN
The 16,000 people who live in Bhutan are learning just how fortunate they are to live in the Himalayan nation known for its almost impossible monasteries and glowing skies. But life in the formerly Buddhist nation has been especially hard on those tourists who’ve come for luxury holidays.
Indeed, lucky visitors are now allowed a small break away from Bhutan’s iron curtain for a purposeful stay in a private hotel, with the same access to animals, food and ancient temples as the locals.
So how did this happen?
Willing to sacrifice their long, hard days in the fields can be an option for tourists wanting to visit Bhutan without getting cold feet. Credit: J.P. MOCZULSKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A milestone decision
It’s been more than a year since the Government of Bhutan decided to change its rules for tourists. Before, tourists were not only allowed a maximum of two nights in one hotel, but had to pay a compulsory fee for extra room and meals. They were also forced to adhere to strict rules that differentiated between Bhutanese and foreign travelers, and required every hotel to be opened for non-Bhutanese citizens.
Why? Because according to the local population, such a ban was justified for two important reasons: respecting the culture of the country and protecting the fragile environment, including its natural resources and biodiversity. And this was not necessarily up for negotiation: Recent years had seen a rise in carbon emissions in a country known for its forests, rivers and wetlands, and tourists were thought to be partly responsible.
So the country was, and remains, a haven for those who love nature and want to experience authentic and untouched cultures.
A fellow traveler at one of the stunning tea tours in Bhutan. Credit: KIM CHAN-WEI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Cashing in on tourism
As a rule, being a tourist in Bhutan was still not a straight transfer for cash. Accommodation was, and still is, provided by locals for far less than similar hotels in India and Thailand, where even private facilities cost about Rp 66,000 ($885) per day. But two factors — the low minimum salary and generous tourism taxes — are beginning to change things: In 2017, the Government of Bhutan announced a first ever levy of Rp 60,000 per night for tourists in Bhutan. This is much lower than it might seem, due to various optional and optional incentives, not all of which have to be paid.
These tourists have also been given a significant boost in their earnings. After paying the minimum stay fee — a credit of 2,000 ngultrum, or approximately $35, on any sum of Rp 66,000 — visitors are allowed to visit local villages and eat at local restaurants. They are also free to go onto national and international reserves and parks, and ask for permits. An interview fee is still necessary for all tours to count as a tourist visit.