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Why Is A Visit To Bhutan So Expensive?

Story by Snow Cat Travel

Posted: February 12, 2018
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This commonly asked question depends upon what you are using to determine the “value.”

If you use money alone as the only factor, then there’s no doubt about it. Bhutan is appalling value for money.

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Compared to Nepal, Bhutan is going to cost you six times more.

The best way we can describe Bhutan is that it is a 10 Star experience at 5 Star prices, but you only get 2 Star in return for your money.

Bhutan
Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Usually, you get what you pay for. A Ferrari costs a lot more than a Ford Focus, although they are still, in fact, both cars.

Jeremy Clarkson in his Top Gear days once said, “you buy an expensive car because of how it makes you feel”… that’s not too far from describing what a visit to Bhutan is all about.

Still, you are paying for a Ferrari and getting a Ford Focus if you apply monetary values only.

So, why is Bhutan expensive when compared to the likes of Nepal, or just about anywhere else in the world.

It’s all down to a thing called “The Minimum Daily Tariff,” and the Government of Bhutan sets this.

Bhutan is famous for it's colorful, traditional festivals

It’s not for us, or any other foreigner to tell Bhutan how it should run its own country. In fact, if you did, you’d probably lose the debate as the Bhutanese can readily take a high moral ground, as well as the fact that no one likes being told what to do by someone else, especially an outsider.

How does the Minimum Daily Tariff  (MDT) work?

Simply put, it is a minimum amount of money every person must pay every day they are in Bhutan. Yes, a minimum.

So, the more days you are in Bhutan, the more days this minimum charge applies.

It also means that some economies of scale don’t work as they should. For example, a private group of 10 people should (as would be the case in Nepal) be much cheaper per person than for a group of 4 doing the same thing. Not really is the answer to this. A little yes, but not the usual economy of scale.

Now, just to confuse you even more, this MDT varies a little. It can depend upon the season. High season naturally being more than the Low Season.

But, for smaller parties of 3 or less, the MDT becomes more costly per person, per day.

For illustrative purposes only, let’s use a supposed average of $275 per person, per day for the MDT.

Bhutan treks
Trekking in Bhutan-The MDT applies here too!

We used the word “minimum” back there, and that’s what it is: a minimum, as there are other factors which might mean your Bhutan trip costs more than that on average.

From a commercial perspective, this stifles the usual rules of competition. It’s not good for you, and neither it is for us. But, that is just how it is. 

It is a government regulation that you must use a licensed Bhutanese Tour Operator like Snow Cat Travel to book your trip to Bhutan. You need a Visa too, and that can only be arranged by someone like us too.

Laya trek, Bhutan
A girl from the remote Laya region of the Bhutan Himalayas

You just can’t turn up in Bhutan and say “let me in” as you can in Nepal.

But, the MDT does include “stuff” for you. It isn’t a case of $275 per person per day, and then there’s everything else to go on top of that. Below, we are simplifying, by the way, what the daily rate includes so don’t think you won’t be paying a little more than the average $275...

All internal taxes and charges

A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.

Accommodation of a certain standard (4 & 5 stars will require an additional, frankly exorbitant premium).

Meals

A licensed Bhutanese tour guide

Some internal transport (excluding domestic flights)

Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours

Still, there you go in a “nutshell,” although even the simple version is complicated enough... that is why Bhutan is expensive.

However, do not confuse the MDT with the Bhutan Visa. Although you cannot get a Bhutan Visa yourself, the cost of that is less than $30!

Bhutan archery
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan...usually not like this though!

In reality, you’re paying a higher price for merely being in Bhutan, which must be considered a privilege to enter a country that wishes to remain culturally intact and not be spoiled by mass tourism and the negative impacts it often brings.

We don’t like it when people go to Bhutan, come back and say, “we paid a lot of money and we expected much more than we got for our money.” It makes us very sad. We don’t set the prices for Bhutan. All we can do is make it clear that this is why your expectations need to be challenged first before deciding whether you want to visit Bhutan.

If you’re unable to get past the “value for money” bit and maybe even view the MDT as a financial punishment. That’s OK. Don’t go to Bhutan as it will really make you feel you have wasted your money and your time.

If you can “see” that a visit to Bhutan is a privilege…..one of the most unspoiled countries in the world…..culturally intact….a magic kingdom that is the complete opposite of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in many respects and can accept that you’re “paying through the nose”….go to Bhutan.

If you are curious or want to plan a visit, this is what we can do for you in Bhutan

Snow Cat Travel Custom Bhutan Treks and Tours

Snow Cat Travel
Snow Cat Travel - Custom Vacations to Nepal & Bhutan

Originally Posted on the Snow Cat Travel WordPress Blog