SDF: The bal­anc­ing act

Business Bhutan - - Editorial -

A sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment fee (SDF) of Nu 500 is go­ing to be im­posed on re­gional tourists vis­it­ing the coun­try from Jan­uary 1 next year. This was in­tro­duced as a mea­sure to mit­i­gate car­bon foot­prints from heavy in­flux of vis­i­tors and con­se­quences such as cul­tural di­lu­tion among oth­ers. Hy­po­thet­i­cally, an In­dian fam­ily of four would be charged a to­tal sum of Nu 6,000 for a three-day stay in Bhutan. This is ex­pen­sive for re­gional tourists but some would ar­gue that this is a rea­son­able means to curb tourist vol­ume. The SDF seems to align well with Bhutan’s high end low im­pact tourism phi­los­o­phy but the risk is that this could have a string of ef­fects in the tourism in­dus­try that could af­fect some play­ers un­fairly while oth­ers would ben­e­fit. This in the longer run would af­fect the econ­omy since tourism is one of the big­gest rev­enue gen­er­a­tors for the coun­try. For in­stance, small ho­tels that de­pend big time on re­gional tourists would see a down­ward spi­ral in busi­ness. They are known to thrive on re­gional tourists who pre­fer to cut costs by pre­fer­ring less than three-star ac­com­mo­da­tion. And it would mean a ma­jor loss for these busi­nesses. Ad­di­tion­ally, a new rule to fa­cil­i­tate e-per­mit for re­gional tourists have put small hote­liers in a quandary. Fa­cil­i­tat­ing e-per­mit would mean that the tourists must route through travel agents. Now the prob­lem arises be­cause travel agents would book only ho­tels that they are on good terms with or who could of­fer them a com­mis­sion. This would again af­fect small ho­tels ad­versely. While we know that en­vi­ron­ment and cul­tural con­ser­va­tion would cost, the au­thor­i­ties should ex­plore ways to bal­ance it with eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties that would add to the na­tional ex­che­quer as well. Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness values are worth striv­ing for but we are de­ceiv­ing our­selves if we think can sur­vive merely on air and ideals. We need to come up with in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions where those in the tourism in­dus­try who are al­ready at a dis­ad­van­tage are not dis­em­pow­ered. The need of the day there­fore is to do the bal­anc­ing act: cher­ish and work to­ward en­vi­ron­ment and cul­tural preser­va­tion but do not ig­nore the fact that a lot can be lost in terms of eco­nomic ben­e­fits if the zeal does not have a check and bal­ance. In this case, we need to relook into the rules and tighten loop­holes. Not do­ing so could cause os­ten­si­ble dam­age to the coun­try’s fledg­ing tourism in­dus­try and shaky econ­omy. Busi­ness Bhutan pro­vides this vi­tal public space to cit­i­zens from cross sec­tion of the so­ci­ety to en­cour­age free and frank de­bate, di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion. Views and opin­ions ex­pressed here are the writer’s. If you wish to con­trib­ute, please email your opin­ions, views, and com­men­taries to busi­ness­b­ and namkhai­jour­nal­

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