Effect of Political Unrest on the Tourism sector of Bangladesh
Interview taken from:
KM Zahirul Ameen,
Chief Executive Officer,
Omni Education and Visa Council.
Md. Mamunour Rashid,
United Tours & Travels.
Mohammed Tariqul Islam
HR & Administration Officer,
Interviewed by: Naimul Kader
(I have incorporated information from all the individuals in one report. I did not visit Qatar Airways in person rather I collected some factual information via electronic media from the mentioned person to make my report livelier. Thank you in advance for your kind patience in reading the report. Any inconvenience is regretted.)
Brief History of the tourism sector of Bangladesh
Forty years has elapsed of Bangladesh’s tourism industry, yet we still see it in a nascent position in comparison to our neighboring countries. Despite having all the potential to flourish, tourism in this country has been growing at a very slow pace. Bangladesh is not known as a tourist destination in the international tourism market. Only 3 lacs foreign tourists came to Bangladesh in 2010, of which more than 70 percent came for business and official purposes. The contribution of the earning from tourism to the country’s GDP is less than 1 percent. The sector got recognition as an industry in 1999. But it never received attention from the government to become a vibrant industry. Whereas many countries which started much later than Bangladesh, for example – Maldives, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos PDR - have developed their tourism industry much faster than this country. In 1998 Bangladesh received 171,961 tourists and Cambodia received only 96,000 tourists. After 11 years in 2009, Bangladesh could attract only 267,000 tourists and Cambodia more than 2 million tourists. This comparison indicates discrepancy in the degree of initiative by two different countries within a same span of time.
What role does tourism play in the economy of Bangladesh?
In the Bangladesh, tourism has not achieved the optimal level of development and status. Tourism business in Bangladesh, as measured by yearly tourist arrivals was 1 million in 2004 which constitutes about 0 .125 per cent of world total of over 800 million. For a long time, the Governments of Bangladesh never gave adequate attention to the development of tourism sector. Since then, early 1990s, however, tourism became recognized as an important sector in Bangladesh. In 2004, tourism contributed about 0.2 per cent of GDP of the economy. In Bangladesh, 1 in every 19 jobs is generated by the sector. The Government of Bangladesh first recognized tourism as an important industry with the framing of a National Tourism Policy in 1992. In 1999, tourism was declared as a thrust sector in Bangladesh.
When is the peak flow of international and national tourists in various tourist spots in Bangladesh?
The sea side tourist township of Bangladesh boasting the world’s longest(120 km.) beach sloping gently down into the blue water of the Bay of Bengal- Cox’s Bazar is one of the most attractive tourist spots of the country. Tourist attraction includes Inani, Himchhari, Ramu, Moheshkhali, and sonadip. Tourist visits this place in almost any time of the year but rush is seen in winter and spring mostly.
Fascinating name Kua(well), Kata(dug) was perhaps given to it by the earliest Rakhyne settlers from kingdom of Arakan who landmarked the place by digging a well. A fabled curative quality of well-waters of Kuakata is still a matter of “willing suspension of disbelief”. Fascinating still more is the sight of the sun at dawn rising from the depths of the sea and sinking into the same at dusk which can be glanced from the same point. The spot attracts tourists in summer mostly.
The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest of the world. Criss-crossing and canals creeping around ten thousand islets swell and sink with the tide in the bay. The cluster of isles, the water-bodies and mangroves together support an eco-system at once unique and agile develop the Sundarbans into a treasure-trove of biodiversity. Tourist attraction includes Hiron Point, Kotka, Kochikhali, Dubla Island, Mandarbaria, Putney Island and Tinkona Island. Nature lovers visit this place mostly ranging from spring to summer.
Forest around abound with innumerable birds species. The orange grove of Chhatak with humming bees adds to the fairy-land aura of the region. The Sylhet vally is formed by a beautiful, winding pair of rivers named the Surma and the Kushiara both of which are fed by innumerable hill streams from the north and the south. Sylhet is the
Foremost tea granary of the country. Tourist attraction includes The Shrine of Hazrat Shah jalal (R.A.), Jaintipur, shahi Eid Gha, Madhabkuunda, Temple of Sri Chaitannya Dev, Srimongal, Tanabil- Jaflong, Lawachhara and Bholaganj. Usually the peak time is in between winter and spring.
This hidden paradise away from the din and bustle of the world is called Bandarban. Bandarban has the unique privilege of having 2 highest peaks of the country: the Keokeradong and the Tajingdong. Tourist attraction includes Boga lake, Chimbuk hill, Meghla, Buddha Dhatu Jadi, Alikandam, Rijuk water fall, Rajbari and Museum and Shaila Propat. Tourists mainly rush here during spring and summer.
The political unrest in the late part of 2013 overshadowed the winter season, which also happens to be a prime time for tourists to visit places. How has it affected the tourism industry?
The impact of political turmoil was disastrous. People had a big time issue regarding security. Generally Bangladeshi people prefer travelling in winter season, so whenever they get scope they go for a short trip across the country. But such was not the case in last year’s winter. Transportation facilities were also a core hindrance. People were concerned about their safety issues and were reluctant to go outside their home. So not only just the tourism industry but all other business sectors suffered massively in terms of poor economic activity. The flow of foreign tourists was not remarkable. Bangladesh acquires a negative impression for its political environment among other countries. Soon as the political situation turned worse, existing tourists inside the country left immediately to their homeland or got trapped in their hotels as there was no means of communication available. Only few tourists came to Bangladesh that then again for official purpose.
Which parties were mostly affected by this? Have they recovered yet?
Individuals and businessperson all were affected by such situation. People from middle and lower-middle income earners suffered the most. The day laborers who live from hand to mouth also suffered a lot. Political unrest affected trade and commerce. Communication gap as mentioned before was a major problem. Proper delivery of goods and services was not possible in due time so businesses had to incur losses. Investors were not comfortable to invest so flow of capital was not up to the mark.
Adequate recovery is not made yet. Business and individuals are still struggling. Gain of confidence will take time for people to work smoothly. But then again if political situation improves then it won’t take much time.
Is there any similar possible situation predicted ahead? What are the precautions for protecting the tourism industry?
Unless a proper political stability is formed such situations are unlikely to go away. The government, opposition parties and the politicians should come to mutual understanding and work for the welfare of the economy. However, that day is not too far when a positive change will be seen.
The lack of development of the tourism industry of Bangladesh can be attributed to multiple reasons like less-prioritization of tourism by all previous governments, lack of budgetary allocation and scarcity of trained people in the industry. There is also a lack of publicity and marketing activities. We lag behind in projecting our attractions to international tourists through advertisements in international print and electronic media, as our neighboring countries do. We have to do this for enhancing the positive image of our country and for introducing our prime tourist attractions as well as our vibrant culture. But, there is a lack of sufficient budgetary allocation. We need to develop an effective brand name for tourism. We have never tried to understand that branding not only helps tourism of the country, it encourages foreign investment as well.
A tourism branding campaign called ‘Beautiful Bangladesh’ has been developed, but according to the tourism stakeholders of the country it does not wholly reflect the tourist attractions of the country. Tour operators who bring foreign tourists are raising demands to mend it. Bangladesh, which has so many positive aspects, needs to rebuild its brand as a country. Apart from the meager budgetary allocation of the government, appropriate plans and programs for tourism development - short term, long term and medium term - was absent before 90’s. Furthermore, in the planning process there were lots of discrepancies. Due to the absence of proper planning, even some infrastructure developments that require a small budget could not be accomplished. For attracting more foreign tourists, we need to turn tourist attractions into tourism products i.e. finished products to sell.
Infrastructure development is sine-quo-non for the sustainable tourism development of any country and Bangladesh is also no exception. Tourism friendly infrastructure is required for smooth and free movement of tourists of all ages, and even for the physically challenged tourists. In view of this, Bangladesh needs to develop accommodations, eateries, good communication and transportation systems, toilet facilities, parking facilities etc. near the tourist spots of the country. It needs to develop international standard facilities at all the tourist spots of Bangladesh.
For promotional campaigns and the marketing of Bangladesh tourism abroad, we need to provide guidelines to the economic councilors and visa officers of the foreign missions of Bangladesh so that they can encourage foreign tourists to visit Bangladesh. Or, we can establish tourism offices in the tourist generating countries like China, UK, USA, Japan, Australia, because these countries produce more than 70 percent of the world’s outbound tourists. We lack a marketing strategy which causes the absence of proper marketing initiatives for tourism products of the country.
We need to diversify our tourism products to attract tourists and encourage them to make repeated visits. We can segment our tourism regions in different categories, so that tourists can be interested to visit many different places. We need to develop tourism products based on archaeology, culture and monument, river, tea garden, indigenous culture etc. We may develop MICE tourism as has been developed by Singapore, Korea, China and other countries of Asia. Many multinational companies of Bangladesh hold their AGM and other meetings in those countries, as well as organize recreational activities there. In this regard, we need to develop many condominiums, international convention centers etc in Dhaka and Cox’s Bazaar. If we can ensure them these facilities, they won’t fly to other countries.
There is a great potential to promote sports tourism in Bangladesh. We can develop venues and infrastructure in the country. Some cricket venues have already been developed. But, more venues need to be established in various places of the country like Cox’s Bazar (the world’s longest sea beach), Kuakata, Comilla, Barisal, Dinjapur etc. For the development of sports tourism we can seek both local and foreign investment. This way we shall be able to reap benefits. Also, by developing sports tourism we can help develop many backward linkage sectors in the country. Besides, this will help the creation of many informal jobs like tea vendors, food corners, betel shops, hawkers etc. A policy framework is necessary to be developed, and strong coordination amongst the concerned departments is required.
We should also emphasize on domestic tourism. Without the development of domestic tourism it is hard to attract foreign tourists. When local people movements start from one place to another, confidence of investors will grow.
Bangladesh should also take initiatives for eco-tourism development in the country especially in the naturally and culturally rich areas. Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) regions of Bangladesh are paradises for eco-tourism activities. On the other hand, Sundarbans is the gold mine for eco-tourism. It is the single largest mangrove forest in the world. It has been designated as a world heritage site since 1997. The world’s second largest mangrove forest is Mastang in Malaysia, which is only one-tenth the size of the Sundarbans. To develop eco-tourism in the Sundarbans, we can install some world class cruise vessels to take tourists to the forest. But we should keep in mind that the eco- system of the Subdarbans is not disturbed. We can also develop eco-tourism at St. Martin’s island which will help protection of the island. Eco-tourism development will help us preserve our rich cultural heritage for the benefit of our future generations. Different policy approaches are required in this regard. Controls of visitors, enforcement of tourist movement guidelines and waste management facilities are required for eco-tourism development.
Safety and security of the tourists should be given the utmost priority. Forming only tourist police cannot solve the problem. Proper orientation should be given to police so that they can behave properly with tourists. The local people have to be involved in this process. When local people would find benefits from tourist activities, they would safeguard the tourists as well as the tourist attractions. Local people at tourist sites have always been neglected. We see that local people get little benefit from the tourism activities in their own areas. For instance, the indigenous and ethnic minority people of Rangamati or Bandarban get very little trickle down benefits from the tourism activities over there. They were never included in the tourism planning and development processes. They have not been properly informed of the value of the tourism resources or to take pride in their own areas. When local people get involved with tourism activities in their localities, a sense of ownership of the tourist attractions grows in them. They become aware of the need to protect and conserve the attractions.
Bangladesh also needs to change its visa policy. It may go for visa waivers for the top tourist generating countries and introduce visa on arrival systems for tourist groups. Nepal provides us visa on arrival but we don’t reciprocate, which hinders tourist to come from Nepal. Immigration formalities at the land ports should also be simplified for foreign tourists.
Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, since its inception in 1972, has created some tourist facilities in different tourist attractions of the country, and has been carrying out some promotional and marketing activities. BPC currently provides tourist facilities to domestic and international tourists in the form of hotels, motels, restaurants, cottages etc. But, this is not enough. There are a lot of things to do. Creation of hotels, motels is not the only aspect of tourism development. We need to do more, including the creation of public awareness. We need proper planning. And for proper planning, extensive research is necessary. Continuous research on tourist trends, market segments and diversification and vulnerability of tourism products is required. We should be vigilant so that ugly tourism cannot flourish here. Exploitation, prostitution and child abuse in tourism should be checked constantly. We should follow the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism set by the UNWTO. We should move forward with a holistic approach for tourist satisfaction as well as preservation and conservation of the tourism products of the country. Only a single ministry or department cannot accomplish all these tasks. Cooperation from other departments is necessary.
What are the future prospects of the tourism industry in Bangladesh? How can it develop?
SWOT Analysis of the Tourism Industry in Bangladesh
Ú Bangladesh is unique for its natural resources.
Ú She has the largest sea beach in the world.
Ú Bangladesh is renowned for its archaeological and historical places.
Ú She has unique natural beauty and greenery.
Ú Nation famous for hospitality.
Ú Rich cultural heritage and religious harmony.
Ú Bangladesh can be reached by air from any part of the world. Biman, the Bangladesh Airlines connects Dhaka with about 30 major cities of the world.
Ú She has the accommodation facilities available throughout the country. Rupushi Bangla, Radisson, Westin and Panpacific hotel chains are in operation in the capital city.
Ú Tourism sites are not properly explored, extracted and managed.
Ú Lack of investment.
Ú Low quality services.
Ú Lack of safety, security and hygiene.
Ú Lack of infrastructural development.
Ú Visa requirement and complex visa procedures.
Ú Absence of sales plan and public relation activities.
Ú Lack of private initiatives in tourism development.
Ú Bangladesh cannot offer tourist products and destination packages exclusively to local and foreign tourists. As a result, tourists have to go back to their home with low level of satisfaction.
Ú The number of supply chain member in the tourism industry is not sufficient to build up a strong base.
Ú Small number of tour operators, inefficient national airlines, and insignificant role of travel agencies.
Ú Shortage of professional guides.
Ú Price of some tourism components like the star and standards hotel rooms, food items, package tours and river cruise programs are much higher than those of neighboring countries like India and Nepal.
Ú Lacking of promotional and marketing activities of tourism by both public and private sector.
Ú Due to globalization scope for dissemination of information and communication media.
Ú Scope of making the tourist spots more attractive.
Ú Research and development to attract more tourist and making favorable tourism policy.
Ú Development of tourism culture.
Ú Arrangement of international events like World Cup Cricket, Football, etc.
Ú Political Instability of the country.
Ú Harassment by the police and the broker in the airport.
Ú Language barrier of the people of the country.
Ú Conservative social and religious systems.
Ú Strong competition within the region, barriers to overcome the image crisis of the country.
Ú Lack of awareness among the mass people regarding the benefits of tourism both locally and internationally.
Ú Illegal hunting and fishing in Sundarbans create loss of valuable wildlife.
Ú Absence of sufficient trained safe guards in the beaches to aware and save the tourists in case of emergency.
Ú Shortage of sufficient accommodation, food and beverage services and other amusement services.
Ú Tourists presently hold misconceptions about Bangladesh as a tourist’s destinations. Foreigners now know Bangladesh as a country of poverty, baggers, flood, political unrest and corruption
Ú Absence of proper tourism policy
Ú Political collision between tribal and Bengali people
It is evident that tourism in the Bangladesh can be an expanding sector. It can be a significant source of foreign exchange earnings and employment generation in our country. Bangladesh has potentials to harness, individually and collectively, for development of tourism sector. However, the progress in cooperation in this area in our region is quite slow, with no substantive achievement even in any particular area.
Low levels of inter-regional tourism within Bangladesh need to be addressed. It is expected that the governments of Bangladesh, with lessons learned from other groups in the world, will take vigorous steps to remove the barriers standing in the way. Bangladesh has many lessons to learn from other countries in the world.
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