Bhutan halves tourism levy

The Royal Highland Festival takes place 4,000m above sea level in a place that locals call ‘the hidden land’

From September 1 this year, Bhutan’s Department of Tourism (DoT) has expanded its tourist incentives for visitors, with the daily Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) reduced by 50 per cent until 2027.

The SDF is now $100 per person, per night, down from $200 per person per night. US Dollar-paying children visiting as tourists (between the age of 6 and 12) will also benefit from the 50 per cent reduction on the SDF. The effective SDF with the discount for children will be $50 per person per night. Travellers who have already paid for their SDF for their upcoming visit to Bhutan are eligible for refunds on any excess amounts paid.

The change was made in view of the important role of the tourism sector in generating employment; earning foreign exchange; realizing the potential for spillover benefits for ancillary industries; boosting overall economic growth; and funding important environmental, social and infrastructure projects.


It is our privilege to see guests from the Middle East and beyond partake in our festivities, reminding us that while our cultures may differ, our aspirations for a sustainable and interconnected future are undeniably universal
– Dorji Dhradhul


“While the global community continues to heal from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conflict persisting in Europe, and the challenges related to the cost of living that are impacting important markets for us, we have listened to the voices of our valued guests, as well as our colleagues in the industry and our global travel partners,” Dorji Dhradhul, the Director General of the Department of Tourism Bhutan, said.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to temporarily lower our Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) with the aim of revitalising our tourism sector. Similar to our nation itself, our approach to our tourism policy stands out for its uniqueness. We acknowledge the necessity of embracing change and occasionally refining both our policies and strategies to better match prevailing market conditions. The lower SDF represents a great opportunity for more people to visit our beautiful kingdom in the future, which will benefit our people as well as the many projects that are funded by the SDF.”

The reduced tourism levy will provide a boost in attendance at the upcoming Royal Highland Festival, which will be held from October 23 to 24, 2023 at Laya in the Gasa district. The festival, which is held at 4,000m above sea level, aims to celebrate, promote and preserve the life and culture of the nomadic highland people of Bhutan, support their economy, exhibit the beauty and wonders of the highlands, and laud their resilience.

The upcoming two-day Royal Highland Festival affording travellers the breathtaking sights and sounds of the high Himalaya, as well as games, parades and competitions showcasing highland animals including yaks, horses and mastiff dogs. Some of the animals are dressed in expensive fabrics with coloured hair and adorned bells. In addition, a variety of cultural programmes will be performed by the Layaps, the indigenous people inhabiting Laya, including traditional songs, dances, poetry recitations and gift offerings. Layaps refer to their homeland as Be-yul – “the hidden land.”

The festival will also feature stalls selling local produce as well as showcasing highland agriculture technology, medicinal herbs and plants, among other things. The festival attracts communities from all over Bhutan and many tribes come down from the High Himalayas to compete in races and showings of their animals. The festival will also feature textile and souvenir stalls, and food stalls displaying local cuisines such as dried yak cheese, butter and alcoholic beverages.

One of the highlights of the festival is the 25-km Laya Run that begins from Ponjothang, the point where the motorable road ends. The participants run along the banks of Mochu river till the festival ground. Visitors attending the highland festival have the excellent opportunity to stay at a farmstay with a Layap family; they can wear the Layap dress, eat authentic highlander food, and attend the festival with the family. Visitors can also hike up the mountains surrounding the festival ground to see the stunning, untouched glacial lakes.