The news that Bhutan is set to impose substantial daily fees for Bangladeshi and two other regional tourists who had been enjoying free entry into the mountain kingdom may have disappointed travelers, but this signifies how Bhutan looks at "foreign currency" earning versus sustainable development.
For a Bangladeshi or Indian tourist paying a $40 visa fee and a daily sustainable development charge of $65 per person is just too much. It becomes so costly that most people would not go there.
Last year Bhutan earned around $85 million dollars from just about 2.71 lakh tourists—of this 1.9 lakh tourists were from India and 10,000 from Bangladesh. Except for Bangladesh, India and Maldives, tourists from all other nations pay between $200 to $250 fees (including a pre-booked hotel rate) per day per person.
Bhutan had never been wide open about tourists, but this does not mean tourists do not enjoy awesome Bhutanese hospitality. They have decidedly followed a policy of restricting tourism to protect their environment—because, as a nation, they look at their environment way above the values of money.
By imposing a costly tourism system, only those who afford come to Bhutan and get to visit certain places that their government have allowed. This is reflected in the words of Dorji Dhradhul, director general of Tourism Council of Bhutan.
"We are not talking about stopping or discouraging regional tourists. We are talking about regulating and managing regional tourists effectively," Dhradhul told Bhutanese media Kuensel.
In a world where every nation is racing with each other to tap more resources to become richer and in the process, mindlessly exploiting the nature, Bhutan stands as an exception.
Just to give the readers a contrast, Bangladesh made $344 million in 2017 from tourism sector without being a tourist friendly nation. Bangladesh wants more tourist revenue—while Bhutan does not.
Why Bhutan does not want more tourist can be explained by how Bhutan looks at life.
Did you know that Bhutan is the only carbon negative country of the world—which means it absorbs more carbon emission than releasing it in the air?
Did you know that Bhutan's Royal Government is committed to maintaining up to 60 percent of its land area is under forest cover at any time-- now or in future?
At present 81 percent of the total land zone in Bhutan is covered by forests with many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries housing great biodiversity and ecosystems for unique and rare wildlife species. That would be the world's highest forest coverage—higher than Finland that has almost 75 percent forest coverage.
Many wild animals find safe refuge in Bhutan—these include Bangladesh's national animal Bengal Tiger.
And if you consider the quality of life in Bhutan—please do not consider Bhutan as an impoverished nation (although ranks as a poor nation). Its poverty rate is 8.2 percent in 2017 (Asian Development Bank)—whereas our poverty rate is 21.8 percent.
Despite the fact that Bhutan has a tough terrain in terms of mobility, and it has been heavily dependent on India to construct road and build large structures. The country provides electricity to 99 percent of its population, according to the World Economic Forum.
Agriculture is Bhutan's major economic factor, just like Bangladesh. Side by side, forestry, hydropower and information technology are fetching the nation foreign currency. None of these have shattering earning in terms of money; but their per capita income is higher than that of Bangladesh.
I am putting up these facts for readers to see that Bhutan is economically and culturally conservative; but it is not depriving its own population economically. It has progress, it has happiness and it remains as one of the most beautiful countries of the world. Bhutan's being a conservationist nation is a great boon for the world—they absorb others dirt.
But look at the way we look at progress. To make some money we destroy rivers and water bodies; we feed our cattle with fattening food with poisons and random antibiotics; we feed our fish with similar food; we cut century old trees without any mercy for the purpose of "beautification" and replace them with imported costly bonsais.
The list can go on forever: our tanners destroyed the Buriganga by polluting the river while taking credit of employing people and earning foreign currency (the cost of the destroyed river was never a question); we build factories in cheap buildings that collapse and make world news; and we put lead in turmeric to make it bright and appealing to customers.
We consider building factories and buildings by grabbing river as "progress" because it fetches money. Anything that brings some people money is considered a "business" here. We never evaluate the cost of the lost river or the environment.
From the policy level we really do not encourage conservation of nature. We have one great mangrove forest in the world and we decide to build a coal power plant close to it. Consider this, Bangladesh's forest coverage is only 11 percent. But Bangladesh is such a fertile land that it could easily regenerate its forest coverage if there was any consideration from the part of the government.
Why is conservation of the environment so important? Because if we were always responsible while developing our nation, we would not have paid medical costs for air and water pollution. We would not have so much difference of wealth between the rich and poor (for instance, the tannery owners became rich and the Buriganga fishermen became jobless). We would not have so much greed in our society that worships money more than anything else in the world.
Bhutan may be a small country; but let's recognize the fact that in a world of greed and money making, Bhutan has a sustainable vision of life that can inspire us to change our bad habits.