Although the Covid pandemic has had a profound impact on the global tourism and hospitality sectors, experts said that Bangladesh can turn the tables by ensuring implementation of a proper plan.
According to Daffodil International University’s Head of Tourism & Hospitality Management Department Associate Prof Mahbub Parvez, Bangladesh is a land of boundless opportunities.
“According to tourist police data, there are some 778 active tourist spots in Bangladesh, of which 445 are enlisted with the tourist police. Some 1.37crore domestic tourists have visited these places since 2019, while 46 lakh tourists have travelled abroad," he said at the latest virtual edition of UNB Light and Lens Live.
"If the World Tourism Organisation is to be believed, these 46 lakh tourists are unlikely to travel abroad in the next 24 months due to the ongoing pandemic. So I see it as an opportunity as these tourists will travel across the country instead of going abroad,” he said at the webinar, titled ‘Hotel and Tourism: Destination of Bangladesh’.
The webinar, hosted by UNB Senior Executive (Digital) Zahid Islam, was also virtually joined by Cluster In-Charge of Sales & Marketing at The Westin & Sheraton Dhaka, Md Al-Amin, former Director of the Tourism and Hospitality Management Department at Dhaka University Prof Dr Syed Rashidul Hasan and Head of Operation at Nascent Gardenia Rezaul Karim.
According to the experts, the hospitality sector in Dhaka has always been more business-guests focused. "Dhaka’s entire hotel sector had been 65-70 per cent dependent on business travellers till the outbreak of Covid. But now these clients are not coming," said Al-Amin, also the manager of The Westin Dhaka, reports UNB.
“The learning from the pandemic for the hospitality industry is that we should not be too much dependent on business guests, and need to focus on accelerating the hospitalities for local tourists. We have been going through difficult times since January 2020, but we are close to overcoming the hard times in the upcoming months by catering more to domestic customers," he said.
On his part, Rezaul Karim, Head of Operations at Nascent Gardenia, said, “Although the impact of the pandemic has been massive on our industry, overcoming these hurdles is not impossible. We have always come out stronger, for example, the aftermath of the Holy Artisan incident."
Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) estimate that Bangladesh is on the verge of losing Tk 470 billion in the tourism and hospitality sectors. However, experts are hopeful that local tourism can help cover up this huge amount of loss in the next 24 months if proper plans get implemented.
“Local hotels and tourism did not suffer much in the later months of the pandemic as the hotels outside Dhaka, for example, those in Cox's Bazar and Sylhet. We definitely can cover up the loss and also ensure eco-friendly tourism with local tourists if proper amenities and logistics are being assured," said Prof Dr Syed Rashidul.
It's high time that Bangladesh shunned the obsolete curriculum of the Hospitality Management subject, he added.
“Hospitality is such an industry where academic knowledge is important, but hands-on skills are also very very important. From my personal experience, I can say that even a tourism graduate has to learn from scratch after joining a job. Moreover, as native Bengalis, many of the employees lack proficiency in English," Prof Dr Syed Rashidul said.
Apart from English, those in the tourism sector should focus on learning a third language, say a foreign one, to cater to tourists from abroad, he added. Prof Dr Syed Rashidul also called on authorities to overhaul the hospitality management curriculum: "The need of the hour is the inclusion of digital marketing, revenue management and hospitality entrepreneurship in the curriculum."
Md Al-Amin agreed. "Industry professionals can assist academicians in this regard. In the next 10-15 years, there will be more international hotels in the country and employment opportunities, but we need to catch young talents early and groom them accordingly."
Rezaul Karim stressed on the need for stewarding, the backbone of the hotel and tourism industry. "Local students are reluctant to join hotels as stewards unlike in foreign countries. Many of today's renowned hotel managers started their careers as stewards in small hotels. The mentality needs to change."
Associate Professor Mahbub Parvez said that 13 ministries are connected with the overall tourism industry in Bangladesh, "and together it is possible to implement the tourist-friendly guidelines and ensure pleasant experiences for the tourists all over the country. This will help make Dhaka a global tourist attraction."