Australian Friendship Offer – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
In 2017 Bhutan and Australia marked 15th anniversary of it's bilateral diplomatic relations. To celebrate the occasion, Bhutanese government decided to present Australian tourists special Bhutan – Australia Friendship Offer for summer 2018. What are the advantages? Should you start packing your rucksack to use the opportunity? Perhaps yes, but before you do that, better read our comments below!
If you're Australian passport holder, you will be exempted from duty to pay minimum daily tariff during June, July and August 2018. You only need to pay Sustainable Development fee of 65 USD per night. Also you don’t need to get full package tour, but you can choose only the services you require.
In theory it means that if you just pay 65 USD per night and 40 USD visa fee, you can come to Bhutan and travel freely, arranging hotels, transportation and food on your own. Or you can just request tour operator to arrange hotels, guide and car, while food you will pay yourself on the spot. You have freedom like in every other country – cool, right?
Quite considerable advantage are discounted air fares, both in Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. While the discounted tariffs are not yet published, the savings will be perhaps in hundreds of USD, depending on the route. (UPDATE as of March 2018: Bangkok to Paro and back route, which is most practical for Australian visitors, the discounted cost is around 575 USD while regular fare is about 785 USD, quite considerable discount of 210 USD.)
On top of that, some hotels, mostly high-end properties, are giving Australian travellers discount up to 50% of the normal fare. See the discounted hotels sheet [no longer available]. Especially if you are after the four or five star experience, you can save dearly.
Unfortunately in practice, the offer is not that super-attractive as it might seem. Tour operators (including us) are not really keen to arrange just the visas without any services. We're still legally responsible for your safety and also for your compliance with all Bhutanese dos and don'ts. Thus we absolutely need to send the guide with you, make sure that you have accommodation and that you will be able to get around Bhutan safely.
In short, you will hardly find tour operator, who would be willing to arrange the trip without the hotels, guide and transportation at least. If we calculate the expenses for these services, you won't be paying for tour much less than what is usual cost anyway. Unless you travel in really large group (6 people and more) you might save maximum 10-25 USD per person per night and that is not really that great deal.
Yes, it's even ugly side of the whole matter – the weather. Summer is rainy season in Bhutan. If you come for five days trip, you might get continuous rain whole time of your stay. You might get lucky and have rain only half of the time or even none if monsoon starts late or stops early, but you can't rely on that. So think twice, isn't it better to pay bit extra and come in spring or autumn season to get sun, blue sky and the snow-capped mountain panoramas?
So should you come?
If you're Aussie, you already have Bhutan on your travel bucket list, summer time fits your schedule and you're ready to take risk with the weather, then it's no-brainer. Just contact us and we will be happy to arrange the tour for most reasonable cost, using the opportunity given by Bhutan – Australia Friendship Offer. If you have doubts about the weather, well, contact us too, we will be happy to arrange the trip any time!