As the pandemic infection rate has been registering a declining trend in recent weeks, the government has taken guarded steps to help life return to normal. Industries and different business centres have, as a result, begun to hum. To avoid the boredom of prolonged stay at home, people have even started to go out for sightseeing. Some well-known tourist spots of the country including Cox's Bazar and Kuakata sea beaches, the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Sundarbans are already getting abuzz with visitors.
Interestingly, according to a report carried by the Monday issue of this paper, visitors' interest, of late, has been growing about places rich in diverse natural ecosystems. For example, many visitors have been found flocking to the hills, haors (large natural waterbodies), dighis (big ponds) and various other cultural heritage sights of Netrakona district. But these ecotourism spots of interest, as the report points out, are in many cases not well-maintained. Moreover, accommodation and other services available at the localities are hardly tourist-friendly. In fact, the visitors should be ready for coming across similar experiences at most other ecotourism spots of interest. Both the government departments concerned and the private sector operators would be required to work in concert to improve and expand the infrastructural and service-related facilities at the different potential ecotourism spots in the country. That the people are now eager to visit scenic spots existing within the country more than ever before is doubtless good news for the domestic tourism sector. Also, it offers to the tourism industry an opportunity that it should make the most of.
At the same time, it would be incumbent on the tour operators to strictly follow the health guidelines all through, as the pandemic is still not over. It is necessary to consider at this point that the tourism sector is the one that became the first casualty of the pandemic attack. The sector has already incurred a loss to the tune of Tk 20,000 crore due to the pandemic. Some 900,000 employees who lost their jobs have to be reabsorbed in the industry. So, efforts should be on from all quarters concerned to reinvigorate the sector. And that would require the customer services to be provided by the tour operators in an affordable, friendly and attractive manner.
It is worthwhile to note at this point that the tourism industries in the neighbouring countries including India, Nepal and Bhutan are more developed and as such better managed. Nepal's tourism sector, for instance, contributes 7.9 per cent to its gross domestic product (GDP). But for Bangladesh in 2020 it was 4.4 per cent. In the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, 2019, Bangladesh was placed behind the rest of the Asian countries. However, its position by now has slightly improved. That, in other words, means that the tourism sector had been dogged by a lacklustre performance before the pandemic inflicted a body blow to it. So, there is a need for a rethinking about the sector. How can Bangladesh's tourism sector possibly get around its performance-deficit and forge right ahead? What is key to unlocking the natural potential of our tourism sector is hands-on involvement of all stakeholders. Strategically, Bangladesh would require rebranding and repackaging its tourism potential topping it up with her investment prospects and marketing these aggressively for clients both at home and abroad. The government, to this end, will be required to extend strong policy as well as fiscal support.