Why is a visit to Bhutan so expensive?

This commonly asked question really depends upon what you are using to determine “value” .

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

Especially if compared to Nepal. Bhutan is going to cost you maybe six times more than Nepal, on as “near as you can get” like for like basis.

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

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Bhutan – Punakha Dzong

Usually you get what you pay for. A Ferrari costs a lot more than a Ford Focus, although they are still 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 actually not too far off 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 this is set by the Government of Bhutan.

Paro Tshechu

Bhutan is famous for its Festivals

It’s not for us, or any other foreigner to tell Bhutan how it should run it’s 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 anyone else….especially an outsider.

But, seriously. Take a moment if you can and watch this video of the Prime Minister of Bhutan, eloquently explaining the Bhutanese approach to many things. It might leave you inspired, as well as appreciate why Bhutan is Bhutan and want to go there, safe in the knowledge that you know why it costs so much. Or you might just think the guy has lost the plot and as the Bhutanese in general buy into this plot, maybe it’s time to cross Bhutan off your bucket list.

 

 

How does the Minimum Daily Tariff  (MDT)work?

Simply put it is a minimum amount of money every person must pay, each and 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 like 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 exactly 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 obviously being more than 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.

laya_2008_steve_nyele_la

The Minimum Daily Tariff applies to treks in Bhutan too

We used the word “minimum” back there and that’s what it is a minimum…..as there are other factors too, 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 is it for us actually 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 only be arranged by someone like us too.

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A girl from the remote Laya region of Bhutan

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

But, the MDT does actually 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.

It includes “stuff” like….we are simplifying here by the way, so don’t think you won’t actually be paying a little more than the average $275 we used above…..

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 star will require an additional, frankly exorbitant premium).

Meals

A licensed Bhutanese tour guide

Some internal transport (excluding internal 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!

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Archery is the national sport of Bhutan-usually not played like this though

In reality in Bhutan you’re paying a higher price simply for being in Bhutan. One that must be considered as being a privilege to enter a country that wishes to remain culturally intact and not be despoiled by being over run by tourism and the negative impacts mass tourism 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 really 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 unspoilt 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.

How convenient you’ve read to here…this is what we can do for you in Bhutan 🙂

Snow Cat Travel Custom Bhutan Treks and Tours

 

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