Domestic tourism in the country has started picking up after the 2013-14 political mayhem ended, and with the return of normalcy. Many other sectors are also witnessing optimistic developments. Violent terror assaults, however, kept the nation edgy for some time. Lately they appear to have subsided. Given the apparent calm prevailing in the country, the travel-loving people's desire to come out of their home confines continues to whet. It's a normal corollary.
During the Eids and the Gregorian New Year festivals in the last two years, the urban middle and lower middle-class people have amply shown their eagerness to embark on tours of the country's popular spots. These include Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the rolling, lush green Sylhet region, Kuakata beach and a few newly explored spots. Lots of affluent and relaxed tourists from Dhaka and the large cities set out for the Sundarbans. The rise in the tourists' number also shows that the otherwise home-loving people could not suppress their footloose nature for long. To the surprise of many tour operators, the overwhelming pressure of the travel-loving people eventually started chipping away at their capacity to arrange comfortable tours.
The rush of local tourists for the attractive locations reached a record high last year (2016). On the days prior to the New Year 2017 celebrations, the crowds of tourists assumed the proportions of seamless fanfare and pageantry at many spots. On the Cox's Bazar sea beach, tourists swelled into a veritable deluge. According to sources in the tour operators and those in the local administration, in the last couple of days of the New Year's Eve, the number of tourists in Cox's Bazar shot to around 1.0 million. The figure covered both the revelling and reflective tourists watching sunset and sunrise on the popular beach. As observed by a number of tourists from Dhaka and other far-away areas, the overall security measures and the necessary facilities have improved remarkably in the large beach area. The long-elusive cleanliness has returned noticeably, bringing about a healthy and environment-friendly ambience at the main beach spots. In the last few years, lax security emerged as a great problem for the peace-loving tourists. Law and order had witnessed an alarming slide, which led to many middle-class women shunning the beach altogether. Mugging incidents once posed a potential threat to the site's prospects for rise in the number of visitors.
On the New Year's Eve in the just-concluded year, the Cox's Bazar beach area was found wearing a completely renovated look. Apart from taking heart from the clean look, tourists have felt reassured and confident over the local authorities' initiatives to put into effect lots of safety measures. It was a relief for many willing to swim or surf deep into the waters to find shark-safety zone indicators in place on the shore. Rescue teams have been deployed to the area. They once existed mostly in paper, their visibility remaining elusive. Last year, these vital personnel, equipped with rescue gear like diving suit, and expertise, were seen keeping watch on the bathers along the shoreline. The display on signal boards informing tourists about high and low tides and weather has lately been found updated on time.
Many people find tours involving the sea, hills and deep forests to be an invitation to ventures filled with thrill and excitement. Ordinary tourists generally lack this passion for suspense. The younger males are traditionally found making the best of their forays into the heart of the missions of adventure. The responsibility lies with the local administrations and tour operators to make the hazardous feats free of fatality. Unfortunate deaths at tourist sites are not infrequent in the country. Casualties from drowning due to quick-sands and ebbing in the sea had lately been on the rise thanks to the absence of preventive measures. The authorities looking to increase in visits to both well-known and obscure sites need to cater to the young people's demands. Youths are seemingly averse to safety back-ups, as these supports spoil the joy of adventure. In spite of this universal fact, the authorities concerned can ill-afford to belittle the precautionary steps meant for the young tourists. The appeal of tours beckons people of all ages. The reason the youths stand out in this group is their noticeable numbers. In spite of the spectacular presence of middle-aged and teenage male and female tourists, it is the male youths who embark on the thrill-seeking undertakings during tours. For some time now, university and college-going young females from Dhaka and Chittagong have been seen joining their male fellows during hazardous tours. The educated young urban women have left their mark on many previously male-dominated tour fronts. Their number is remarkably on continued rise. However, despite the recent infusion of youthful exuberance in the country's tour spectacle, it does not keep itself limited to any particular age-group. The popular tourist spots in the country throughout the last year were abuzz with tourists of all ages. The message is clear and pronounced: domestic tourism in Bangladesh has begun bouncing back.
As tour experts view it, a prime precondition for a boom in tourism is ensuring comfortable and cheap accommodation for people. On the last New Year's Eve, dearth of living space in Cox's Bazar emerged as a great damper. The hotels, motels, rest houses, etc., got filled up to the capacity long before the 31st celebrations. As a result, tourists were found making space by squeezing themselves into single rooms. During the peak days - seven to 10 people had to share a room space meant for overnight stay of two. However, the mood of widespread jubilation helped the bitterness and discomfort subside to some extent. But the inconvenience remains a reminder of the imperative of prerequisites for infusing buoyancy to Bangladesh tourism.
Venturing into the unknown worlds has long been a normal trait going with the Bengalees. In the bygone days, the brave sons of the soil undertook long journeys to distant alien lands. That their descendents will follow their path appears to be in conformity with human nature. The days of expeditions are long over. The world is getting smaller by the day. All parts of the earth, even the deep recesses of the Amazon forests, have been stained by human footsteps. But this does not mean that the days of visiting strange lands are over. These are found even in one's known territories, including people's own countries. Even a geologically flat country like Bangladesh has its undiscovered wonders.
Many tourism experts credit foreign TV channels with the increase in interest among venturesome people to discover new places. Bangladesh is a small country. Except the sea beaches at Cox's Bazar and Kuakata, and the CHT, it has few unexplored sites with tourism potential. Yet newer and previously inaccessible sites in the hilly areas in CHT and the Sylhet region continue to be discovered. In the last ten years, a number of such tourist attractions, such as springs in deep forests, have been discovered. TV channels like Discovery and National Geographic provoke the adventuring youths' curiosity to travel to hitherto undiscovered places. Once a site's whereabouts are exposed, the average tour-loving people begin rushing there. Given their primitive communication infrastructure, many far-flung areas in the country's hills lie hidden. The government and private tourism authorities may devote their financial and entrepreneurial strength in this new type of ventures. It may not disappoint them.
In order to boost traditional domestic tourism, the government ought to keep in focus some prerequisites. Apart from promotional campaigns, it should ensure that the basic facilities are in place for tourists. They include accommodations for night-stay, security, safe food and water and emergency medical help.
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