The first rules governing tourism was drafted in 1971 although the industry began only after the coronation of the Fourth King in 1974 when Bhutan was opened to international visitors for the first time. Today tourism is a vibrant booming business. The Royal Government adheres strongly to a policy of “high value, low impact” tourism policy, essentially to strike a balance between securing economic gains and the need to protect and preserve the rich cultural, religious and natural heritage. Bhutan has received much international acclaim for its cautious approach to development that places a high priority on conserving the nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Protecting fragile nature and culture is part of the Bhutanese value system and is an important aspect of the traditional way of life in Bhutan, and the tourism policy reflects these concerns.
In this regard, since inception of the industry, the Royal Government has adopted a very cautious approach to growth and development of tourism industry. Number of tourists has been maintained at a manageable level through a policy of state regulated tariff. Thus the carefully controlled Bhutan’s tourism policy that says, in essence: “take nothing but picture, leave nothing but footsteps.” Bhutan is extremely keen to develop its tourism in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. The tourism industry has been sustainable so far due to the sound environmental and cultural policies of the Royal Government which has considerable authority over setting policy direction. A visitor has to pay a minimum tariff of US$250 per day, which is covers lodge, meals, guide charge, overland transport and royalty but exclude visa application fee, airfare etc. The policy of imposing a high daily tariff has also succeeded in making tourism in Bhutan an exclusive and distinctive experience.
Tourism poses significant threat to our highly fragile mountain ecosystem as well as display opulence and materialism negatively influencing local culture and values. The main objective of the Royal Government is to promote sustainable tourism for socio-economic development by minimizing negative impacts and taking advantage of the country’s unique cultural and spiritual heritage as well as natural environment through high value tourism. Further, the eco-tourism, adventure sports and nature tourism offer new opportunities and challenges for Bhutan with the world tourism evolving as well as growing and tourists increasingly want to engage in the recreational or sporting activities, learn more about local cultures and traditions, wellness tourism or develop special interests.