Bangladesh's tourism sector needs direct financial aid and promotional branding to attract more local and international tourists and for its revival after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has over 1,600 natural tourist spots, including the world’s longest natural sea beach, eye-catching mountains, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world and ancient archaeological sites, but only a few are being promoted and visited.
Inadequate infrastructure and road transportation for comfortable travel, expensive accommodation, a lack of high-quality and healthy foods in tourist hotspots, and a lack of host community engagement in the tourism process are some of the major challenges preventing the country's tourism industry from expanding further.
Less than 1% of the national budget is allocated for the tourism sector, while some 15 million local tourists have started visiting sites after coronavirus pandemic restrictions were recently lifted.
Nishad Adnan, a teacher at the Aga Khan School in Dhaka and the administrator of a social media youth tour group with over 8,000 members, told Anadolu Agency that tourism has yet to evolve into a well-established sector in the country due to a lack of appropriate government oversight. Therefore, tourism is still a non-sustainable industry.
One often sees overcrowded tourist sites that impact the spots badly and cause environmental damage, including in major tourist hubs like Cox's Bazar, he cited as a sign of lax monitoring.
He underscored the need to “community engagement in the process to promote safe and interactive tourism and local culture and heritage."
Towfiq Orno, who works for a private company, has traveled to and explored many wonderful places that few people are aware of, such as the hilly districts and wetlands.
“There are two types of tourists. In one category are tourists who want to visit comfort zones in nearby areas on weekends, while others want to explore nature in comparatively remote tourist spots,” Orno told Anadolu Agency.
“We mostly ignore the second category. Bangladesh has as many as 423 small or large wetlands, including in recently explored sites in eastern Sylhet and Kishoreganj districts, and those could be new tourist hubs,” he added.
- Promotional branding, digital marketing needed
Santus Kumar Deb, chairman and an associate professor of the department of tourism and hospitality management at the University of Dhaka (DU), told Anadolu Agency that due to the pandemic, the sector suffered a 200 billion taka ($2.34 billion) loss while thousands lost their jobs. Many others changed their professions, which is a significant loss for the sector, as they were skilled manpower.
“If we can ensure proper infrastructure and transportation development while also completing ongoing projects, including in the Cox's Bazar tourist hub, then tourism's current 4.4% contribution to the country's GDP will be raised to 6/7% soon," he projected and suggested, "We need digital advertising, global branding using social media platforms, and online tourism to make this happen."
Bangladesh needs to prepare and open tourism parks as soon as it can to revive the sector and attract global tourists. Cooperative, rural tourism and the involvement of local people in tourism could ensure more employment and bring in foreign currency, he noted.
- Operators need financial package to survive
Md Rafeuzzaman, president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), shared his frustration over trying to obtain direct financial aid from the government to help bring about a recovery in the pandemic-hit sector.
Bangladesh Bank, the country’s central bank, however, amid the pandemic had declared a stimulus package worth 10 billion taka ($117.37 million) so hotels, motels and theme parks could get loans in the form of working capital with a 4% interest rate for paying salaries to employees.
“We didn’t get a single penny from any stimulus package, and banks are not interested in giving us loans,” he added, demanding a direct government loan or financial aid for their survival and to revive the sector.
“Most of the tour operators and sector insiders, including our 750 members, experienced huge losses during the pandemic while in the sector,” he added.
- Government takes on projects to revive tourism
Abu Tahir Muhammad Zaber, a director at the Bangladesh Tourism Board, told Anadolu Agency they are working with the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies to determine the loss and a recovery plan.
And meanwhile, they have developed a draft guideline based on recommendations from stakeholders in the sector, which will help Bangladesh's tourist industry grow even more rapidly, he said, adding,"We are hoping to get it finished in four months."
“We are also working with our limited manpower to build mass awareness and get local people involved in the tourism sector, and in order to patronize village tourism, we have selected 45 subdistricts and are working to get them prepared for tourism,” he added.
He said they have written to the Commerce Ministry to determine the tourism industry’s definition and include it on the ministry’s list so that they can benefit from government stimulus and bank loans, including as small and medium enterprises (SMEs).