The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 has plunged the tourism industry of Bangladesh into a worst-ever evolving challenge. Like elsewhere of the world, the virus has already taken a great toll on the slow-progressing tourism industry of Bangladesh in its all verticals -- leisure vacation, adventure or eco-tourism, business or VFR etc. Meanwhile, different tourism industry associations of Bangladesh have called upon the government for a recovery incentive package for the survival of this delicate industry. The associations fear retrenchment of three million people and about BDT 30 billion financial losses in this industry owing to Covid-19. Tour Operator Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) has held a separate press conference; and Tourism Resort Industries Association of Bangladesh (TRIAB) has submitted a request letter for a recovery incentive package and some other organisations wrote open letters to the government. In fact, all the associations reiterate similar suggestions for the survival of this industry. Though the government has already declared a bailout programme of about BDT 73 thousand crore in five separate loan-scheme incentive packages, Bangladesh tourism industry insiders are skeptic about how much money will trickle down for the survival of the tourism industry. Tourism as a service sector falls under package-1 of the government bailout programme.
Though tourism has a multiplier effect on the society, the result is always not tangible. Sometimes, its impact cannot easily be calculated under the so-called mathematical programme. Its extensive contributions have to be justified by the positive changes in communities and thus in society. As its contribution is not yet perceived by the policy makers of Bangladesh, the budgetary allocation is not made in the expected manner.
The coronavirus impact is immense, as tour operators have found confirmed tour packages cancelled; hoteliers lost their guaranteed bookings, food and beverage owners are totally undone. This year during the peak season of the tourism, the industry has experienced the most severe crisis after the political turmoil in 2014.
This industry immediately needs at least 2-3 years' tax waiver to bounce back. Hence, here are needed some proper planning and policy guidelines from the government. Among the planning, more focus on domestic tourism has to be made. Domestic tourists have to be encouraged for travelling with new enthusiasm as tourism spots are now fresher than ever. Simultaneously confidence has to be built among the foreign tourists to visit Bangladesh.
In the planning process, there may be a year-long recovery incentive package such as, tax rebate for resort owners and hoteliers; exemption of double taxation on food and beverage industries. Also exemption of ferry and bridge tolls for tourist-carrying vehicles may be made. Entry to tourism spots including archaeological sites may be relaxed for at least three years for group-tour operated by tour operators of Bangladesh.
Interest-free deferred bank loans for investment in tourism parks, resorts, picnic spot, etc. may be offered. The policy may include budgetary allocation for development of tourism spots across the country. Allocations also may be made for the tourism training institutes that are engaged in tourism human resource development. Because the skilled-manpower produced by the training institutes go abroad and bring in remittance for Bangladesh. Hence, Ministry of Expatriate and Labour may help in finding jobs abroad as soon as possible. Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has already sought information about losses from the tourism-related associations. Once the ministry receives all the information and data, it may calculate the exact loss and make proper planning on how to cope with the situation and offer recovery incentives. Also, the travel -- related updated information and advisory should properly be published. The tourists may be requested to travel responsibly and maintain their own hygiene -- they should practice frequent hand washing and be careful that they do not litter the tourism spots.
If the planning is not executed properly, the tourism industry will lag behind all other industries of Bangladesh by many years. As retrenchments have already taken place in the tourism industry of the country, more time is needed to create jobs and get it back in its original position. Tourism itself is a resilient industry in nature. This industry has evolved despite many disasters and global crises. It always bounces back with its rejuvenated character. But, it needs some time with congenial policy guidelines to bounce back. UNWTO is also hopeful of its return with the much progress. The organisation also recommends government policy support for some years. In line with the UNWTO recommendations, Bangladesh's tourism urgently requires a recovery incentive package. Once it receives incentives, the industry can contribute triple to the economy of Bangladesh.
The author is Manager, BPC. Md. Ziaul Haque Howlader is Manager (PR and FL), Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation