As you may have heard, the Bhutanese government has put the price of their daily tariff up, starting from next year. Way up… They are doing this in an effort to control their rampant tourism industry and mitigate the damage that tourism can do to delicate cultures and fragile ecosystems.
Bhutanese daily tariff
If you are in any doubt of the potentially destructive nature of uncontrolled tourism, look at Nepal, which has had massive environmental and cultural destruction due to out of control tourism, or closer to home (my home at least), Bali…
Unfortunately the Bhutanese government chose to nearly double their already very high daily tariff from US$250 per person per day, to US$399 per person… per day… For those who are unfamiliar with this unusual system, this tariff gets you your hotel, basic food, basic transport and a guide (plus the wonderful views and lovely people). For a group tour that usually translates to a bus, a driver and one guide for the whole group of usually 20 people.
But not in cars
If you want to do what I do, and run the tour with a car, driver and guide for every two participants, this goes up considerably. This daily tariff of course does not include things like visas or airfares.
This rather massive cost increase has panicked the local Bhutanese tourism industry, largely comprised of small family run agencies or individual contractor guides and drivers, as well as restaurant and hotel proprietors, who are almost all small family concerns.
Bhutan is in real danger of a huge percentage of the Bhutanese population being put out of business overnight, as the tourist volumes don’t just slow, but fail to materialise completely. This has already been evidenced in the first couple of months that Bhutan has opened since Covid.
Increased tourism quality
The Bhutan government tells us that they have increased the training requirements of guides and drivers, as well as putting stricter conditions onto hotels and improved the meals for all tourism facing businesses… So increasing the quality of all the tourism industry, is what you get for the increased pricing.
I have been using the same guides and drivers for 10 trips so far, and they are all superb, so this affects me not at all. All the hotels I use have been vetted over many trips to ensure they are the best available and the same with the restaurants I use… I don’t get any value added there then.
Just 6 participants…
So I have reduced the maximum group size I take to Bhutan from 8-10 to just 6 for the 2023 tour. A very intimate number, and I think one of the smallest group sizes of any photo tour operator going to Bhutan.
Couple that with my 10 tours worth of experience running photo tours in Bhutan, plus a tried and tested Bhutanese team of highly experienced fun and charismatic people, and an itinerary that takes you way off the usual tourist routes. I think I add considerable value there.
There is also the added bonus for us in 2023 of there being very few tourists around… As tough as that’s going to be for the small tourism operators in Bhutan, it is very good for us who still choose to go, and in a personal way it’s helping out some of the small businesses who are so worried about their livelihoods.