The Financial Express

Law for tour operators and tourism industry

| Updated: November 22, 2021 22:02:55

Law for tour operators and tourism industry

It took nearly 50 years for the government to pass a law to regulate the tour operators who work in a sector that has never been on the policymakers' priority list. The new piece of legislation, adopted by Parliament late last week, incorporates a couple of provisions. One allows foreign tour operators to do business in Bangladesh. The other makes it mandatory for the local tour operators and guides to secure licences from the relevant government agencies to do business. The new law also provides for punishment to tour operators/guides who would violate the law.

Issuing licences to the tour operators is important since foreign tourists depend more on operators for their travel plans and programmes. Though domestic tourists are yet to develop the habit of hiring the services of tour operators/ guides, the situation might change soon. Middle-class families in large numbers are moving towards the potential tourist spots in the country. Their rising affluence is thought to be a prime cause for the change in their attitude. This particular class of domestic tourists is also expected to start taking the services of tour operators/guides soon.

At the moment, there is no mechanism to deal with allegations, if there is any, of a breach of contract between the tourists and tour operators. The mandatory licencing and the legal provision for punishment for violating legal provisions are likely to deal with the issues partially. What, however, remains important is the creation of an appropriate body that would closely monitor activities of the tour operators. The government, while protecting the interests of the tourists, needs to incentivize the work of the tour operators.

The provision made in the new law allowing the foreign tour operators in the country is a move in the right direction. Such a decision should have been taken long ago. There is no denying that Bangladesh is yet to attract a notable number of foreign tourists despite having all the potentials. There could be a long list of reasons for it. Lack of proper publicity could be the number one reason. Once in business, the foreign tour operators' job will be to make an extensive online campaign to motivate foreign tourists to visit Bangladesh.

It, however, will not be out of place to mention the problems the tour operators, numbering more than 700, have been facing since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country in March last year. They sat idle during 2020 and most of 2021 as the travel and tourism industry suffered losses worth billions of taka. The government has offered stimulus packages worth over Tk one trillion to various sectors during the Covid period, but allegations have it that the tourism industry did not get the support.

Industry insiders say nearly half of the tour operators have left the trade failing to cope with the onslaught of the pandemic and most of them are unlikely to make a comeback. Their departure will create a big vacuum in the sector. So, it is essential to ensure their return or promote the entry of new tour operators.

The government should offer an incentive package for this purpose. If the government is truly serious about promoting the travel and tourism industry, it will have to change its policy and programmes. Making a piece of legislation will not be enough. More need to be done for a sector that has hitherto remained neglected.

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