A balanced approach to tourism  

Published: April 12, 2019 22:05:06 | Updated: April 15, 2019 22:08:10

Much as domestic tourism has registered a rise in the country, arrivals of international tourists in Bangladesh keep well below even the regional average. India received 10.04 million foreign tourists in 2018. Nepal has already crossed one million mark having received 1.4 million visitors last year. By contrast, official figure for Bangladesh is around 0.6 million. But experts in the field are inclined to believe it may have varied between 30,000 and 50, 000. There is an element of incidental foreign tourists who include Bangladesh in the itinerary when in South or Southeast Asia on business or pleasure trips. But that needs not be undervalued because it is indicative of an extended tourist preference after all. In the main though, this sets the task for the Bangladesh tourism authority and the various tour operators to fully exploit the potentials for eco-tourism and visits to heritage sites that abound in Bangladesh. The idea should take hold of the imagination of entrepreneurs and excursion-lovers around the world that Bangladesh in its own right is a tourist destination. For that to happen, of course, she has a long way to go. The whole lot of infrastructure beginning from the airport to city centre to the tourist attractions will have to be literally hospitable, and to a point of pampering.

Even in dense Bangladesh, there are retreats that beckon. By nature welcoming to foreigners as the relevant global index recently attested to, Bangladeshis may have some fence-mending to do. Say for instance, letting the foreigners be without undue curiosity stalking their footsteps - this topped up by a sense of security infused into them.          

The relevant data from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) make one sit up and take note of the disconnect between the growth of global tourism and that of world economy. Worldwide international tourist arrivals - overnight visitors being the marker - increased 6.0 per cent to 1.4 billion in 2018, well above the 3.7 per growth attained by the global economy. That means growth in tourism outstrips economic uplift, so self-driven tourism can be. The message should not be lost on especially the developing countries -- Bangladesh for one -- where ironically the growth of the economy outpaces advancement of tourism by a wide margin. The irony is all the more pronounced when the developing world is by and large the preferred destination of foreign tourists offering more adventure and exotic charms than their countries of origin.   

 So as far as Bangladesh is concerned there is an obvious mismatch between the upbeat in domestic tourism and the- less- than- expected number of international tourist arrivals. Statistics graphically illustrate the point. Domestic tourist turn-out has reached a staggering 97.6 per cent apparently mocking at the pro forma observation that buoyant domestic tourism is a precursor for foreign tourist arrivals in a country. The theory, clichéd as it has become in the case of Bangladesh, has been disproved. While not taking away anything from domestic tourism one mulls the fact that Bangladeshis are increasingly holidaying abroad to satisfy their appetite for tourism or to escape monotony at home. That is where a lesson screams for Bangladesh -- in drawing a substantial number of international tourists, the authority will have to upgrade the sets of facilities at par with or in the closest approximation to the countries in Asia-Pacific region.

Tourism has to be prioritised as a powerful driver of sustainable growth with social capital enhanced to top it up. Whole communities can be involved, job opportunities created and new incomes generated if the public and private sectors live up to a new thrust on tourism. This should be aimed at 50-50 proportion between domestic tourism and that of international variety.

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