Tourism: Much hype, less professional approach

Shihab Sarkar | Published: November 01, 2018 21:28:08 | Updated: November 01, 2018 22:04:44

Bichanakandi, Sylhet

Tourism days, weeks and, even, months are commonplace in the country these days. The government designated the whole year of 2016 to tourism. The objective was to showcase the potential for tourism in Bangladesh. Tourism fairs disseminating the basic facts about popular tourist sites have lately become a regular event; so have the lofty government plans to overhaul the whole tourism sector by injecting fresh doses of stimulus into it. There is a catch. In spite of the ritualistic importance attached to the country's tourism prospects, few spaces are allotted to the sector's economic aspects. The shoddy management and scores of disincentives notwithstanding, the tourist sites have hardly ceased to draw tour-loving people. Most of the people spend generously on their tours.  In the recent decades, the years of 2014-2015 witnessed a prolonged period of troubled times thanks to the political programme of a countrywide blockade. With the period of 'siege' over, people resumed rushing to the popular spots.

In 2018, Bangladesh tourism can be defined as having expanded to hitherto unknown areas. They have been lying unexplored alongside the popular and frequently visited sites. It is the venturesome and intrepid youths who are bringing these tourist spots to popular notice. Thanks to their indefatigable and youthful efforts, tourism in Bangladesh, a small country, has been able to take on a varied character. Although nowhere near Nepal, Sri Lanka or Maldives -- let alone India, on the count of tourist arrivals, Bangladesh can claim a distinctive place alongside them. It stems from the government initiatives and increasing economic prospects offered by the country's fledgling domestic tourism.

Though the overseas tourists have  resumed visiting Bangladesh  warily,  they may take some more time before starting to move freely in the country. The political mayhem of 2014-`15 had greatly dented the spontaneous arrival of foreign tourists in the country. To the delight of the authorities in the tourism sector and private tour operators, domestic tourists were found filling in the void. On holidays, people with families and friends have for some time been seen joining the trend of breaking loose of the confines of monotonous urban life. They belong mainly to the middle class and are prepared to spend money on even the brief outings. As expected, they spend money on the tours of mostly long-popular spots. Cox's Bazar, the Sundarbans, Kuakata and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) dominate their choices. Many also venture out into the St. Martin's Island. However, lately new sites in the greater Sylhet region have emerged in the country's tourist map. In no time the rush has reached an encouraging level, with people in droves making day-long dashes for Ratargul, Bisnakandi, Tanguar Haor, Baikka Beel and some other areas. Many now avoid Jaflong due to its thickening crowd. None of these spots are comfortably accessible. There are no facilities for overnight stay, food joints and toilets. Security apparatus is elusive. In spite of these limitations and drawbacks, tour-loving people cannot be deterred from visiting these new tourist sites. A similar condition is also found in the newly discovered spots in the outlying areas of CHT.

The fact that proper functioning of these new sites with increased visits will inject dynamism to the domestic tourism eludes the authorities. The domestic tourists' demands are humble. Tolerably comfortable lodging and rest facilities coupled with safe food and assurance of a hazard-free stay would prompt most of them to embark on these adventure tours. The economic dividends are expected to outweigh the cost involved in putting the necessary infrastructure effectively in place. In reality, the newly explored spots lack even the rudimentary prerequisites for the tourists. That interested people still venture out for these unknown places speaks of a unique trend of this nation in the changed times. It is, with facilities and adequate security ensured, tour-loving people cannot be resisted from visiting a new place at the earliest. In the meantime, the traditional spots like Cox's Bazar or the Sundarbans find themselves hard put to it to cope with the ever mounting tourist pressure. Tourism experts have long been emphasising taking excessive pressure away from these spots. Already the overcrowded state of the Cox's Bazar beach, the Sundarbans and the St. Martin's Island has unleashed a plethora of environmental hazards.

Eco-friendly tour activists advocate dispersing the tourists' pressure. In this task, making the new spots fully functioning and attractive has few substitutes.  In the last few years, tourist sites were discovered one after another. They lay scattered in the length and breadth of the country. With some close to the cities and towns, many were found located in remote and veritably inaccessible areas. These spots need to be made friendly, easy-to-reach and hazard-free.

Like in the previous years, World Tourism Day 2018 was observed in the country. A 3-day-long tourism fair was also organised in the capital to mark the day. The theme of this year's tourism day was 'Tourism and the Digital Transformation'. The whole exercise revolved round the overused subject: Attracting greater number of tourists in the country and offering them adequate tour-related facilities. A significant volume of focus was thrown on the impediments to the growth of a lively tourism sector in the country, as well as ways to remove them.

As a long-followed norm, the economic aspects of domestic tourism and that undertaken by overseas people remain largely untouched in the country's tourism-related discussions. The sector does not ensure windfall profits, for one of the classical rules of tourism is economising. Perfect tourists spend less -- travelling, eating and living simple. The economic fruits which a nation hopes to reap from the sector come mainly from a steady and ever-increasing growth of both domestic and overseas tourism. Its expansion and the related economic dividends are dependent on a properly functional service sector. They have a lot to do with the networks of accommodation and communication, provided they embrace continued phases of improvement. Integrally linked to them are trade in local products and employment opportunities for unemployed youths. As tourism experts view it, in spite of being slow in flourishing, the whole tourist set-up of a country does finally take an institutional shape. However, it is hinged on a steady visit of tourists to the traditional and newly explored sites.

Bangladesh has great scopes for hosting an ideal tourist destination. The country is blessed with numerous attractive spots. Unfortunately, it lacks an adequately functional infrastructure oriented to a vibrant tourism sector. Its economic prospects have yet to be fully identified and explored. Due to being a largely negligible sector compared to the others, reliable data on the economic yields coming from Bangladesh tourism are scant. According to available surveys, the contribution of tourism to the country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was 9.44 per cent in 2009-'10. It declined to 4.7 per cent in 2015. The rate stood at 4.3 per cent in 2017.  This is a sad commentary on the high expectations from the country's tourism sector. But there are signs that make many feel upbeat. Notwithstanding the still-ramshackle picture, Bangladesh tourism holds great prospects. In order to sell it to the interested clientele, it needs well planned marketing. There are few spaces for doubt that conducting it wisely will lead to a spectacular return of overseas tourists. Scenes of tourists foreign and local moving about at attractive spots may not be that far.


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