New SDF incentives spark hope for tourism in Haa

The government’s announcement of the new Sustainable Development Fee incentives has brought hope to those in the tourism business in Haa. They say the incentives will encourage tourists to stay longer in the country, leading them to explore other parts of the country beyond the usual tourist spots. The new SDF fee incentives provide tourists with extra days with SDF waive-offs under three conditions.

Nestled in a picturesque remote valley, Haa showcases both the ancient and modern aspects of the country. It has been one of the popular destinations for tourists following Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Bumthang.

However, the district has experienced a decline in the number of visitors amid the pandemic and the change in SDF packages.

Nevertheless, the government’s recent announcement of the new SDF fee incentives has provided a glimmer of hope for homestay owners like 62-year-old Choden from Uesu Gewog.

Her homestay was certified by the Department of Tourism recently. There are six three-star hotels and around 20 registered homestays in the district.

“Many tourists come until Chelela from Paro but don’t stay overnight. They only visit Haa for a short lunch and return in the evening due to time constraints. With the new incentives, tourists would have more time to stay and we might finally see some staying for a few nights,” said Choden.

“We have mainly seen tourists in Thimphu and Paro. Since the reopening of tourism in September last year, I have only received two guests. However, with the government’s new incentives, we are hopeful for a change and are preparing by cleaning and maintaining our infrastructure,” said Kinley Wangchuk, a homestay owner.

Likewise, hotel owners are also excited about the new SDF fee incentives. However, they say the district hasn’t been marketed enough as a tourist spot despite having a lot to offer.

“The new SDF fee incentives are very exciting for hotel owners. With this initiative, tourists will only have to pay SDF for four nights, and they will enjoy an additional four nights without having to pay USD 200 per night. This will greatly benefit us. However, one of our challenges is the lack of proper marketing for Haa as a tourist destination. Some tourists who have visited Haa say that a one-day visit is insufficient as there are many places to explore,” said Rinchen Khandu, chairperson of the Haa Hotel Association.

Prior to the pandemic, Haa welcomed over eleven thousand international tourists. Haa was opened to foreign tourism in 2002.

Meanwhile, between September last year and May this year, more than 19,000 international tourists visited the country, with slightly over half of them paying the daily SDF of USD 200.

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