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Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

Bhutan hopes for Kolkata travel industry

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KOLKATA INDIA – It would be a lie to say that people didn’t react with nothing but happiness when the borders opened little by little for travel to take place. At first countries were a little apprehensive about the whole travel thing because of the pandemic, but they soon realized that this was needed and tourism had to start from somewhere.

Some countries have more reservations than others which are understandable but countries have now come out of those fears and are making their borders pretty accessible to anyone that wants a holiday. One of these countries was Bhutan, as we see Bhutan opening its doors to tourism on September 23 after a gap of 915 days, the travel trade industry in Kolkata and Siliguri is excited about the prospect of reviving the high-end tourist traffic to the Himalayan kingdom.

“Bhutan is a leisure destination for tourists. Connected by air from Kolkata, it offers high-end tourism with luxury resorts in pristine locations. There is a mid-category as well but that has to be accessed by road from north Bengal,” said Travel Agents Association of India chairman (east) Manav Soni.


As of right now Bhutan Airlines operates three flights a week between Kolkata and Paro, offering around 500 seats a week. That is still far lower than the 1,000 seats that were on offer prior to the pandemic when Druk Air also operated. But it’s seen as a start and a good start at that. The goal is to start somewhere.


Before the pandemic, nearly 1,000 visitors from Bengal travelled to Bhutan daily, some of them by air from Kolkata, while the rest opted for road travel via Phuentsholing. Bhutan received a total of 230,381 visitors from India in 2019.

“On September 23, we will welcome all guests coming into the country via the Paro international airport and all land entry/exit points Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse. Those arriving by the four international flights will be welcomed with gift bags. There will be music, entertainment and dancing on the tarmac at the airport and inside the terminal, with refreshments served to all visitors,” said a Bhutan tourism official.


While tourism can help revive Bhutan’s economy, it will also revitalise border towns in Bengal like Jaigaon in Alipurduar that had a monthly trade of Rs 500 crore prior to the lockdown. “We hope that better days will return. But it will take a while because 60% of traders have left Jaigaon. Once the border opens, the business will return,” said Ramsankar Gupta, secretary of Jaigaon Byabsayee Samiti.


The only hindrance might be the sustainable development fee (SDF) of Rs 1,200 imposed on tourists planning to spend nights in Bhutan. “The $15 SDF could be a stumbling block. Of course, it is way lower than $200 that other foreigners have to pay but it is still steep considering that air fares and hotel tariffs are expensive. Also, one is required to compulsorily engage a local travel agent and travel with a local guide,” said Travel Agents’ Federation of India chairman (east) Anil Punjabi.


A Bhutan tourism official said, “The SDF enables investment in transformative programmes that preserve our cultural traditions, protect our heritage and environment, ramp up infrastructure, create opportunities for our young people and build resilience.”


Samrat Sanyal, general secretary of Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network, hopes the tourism will not be impacted by SDF as eastern Dooars depend largely on tourists who visit Bhutan and then spend a couple of days in the region on their way back. In 2019, the eastern Dooars attracted around 1.5 lakh tourists between April and June. All of them had travelled to the Himalayan kingdom either before or after visiting Dooars.

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