Prospects for domestic tourism

Shihab Sarkar | Published: September 07, 2018 21:34:04


A tourist spot at Banshbaria in Sitakunda of Chattogram.

Following the last Eid-ul-Fitr, a large number of people left the big cities to spend their holidays in remote areas during the Eid-ul-Azha also. Those may be a beach, a hill town, or a quiet and sylvan riverbank. In Dhaka, many people boarded a long-route coach or a train on the day after Eid to make a trip outside the monotonous and squalid urban ambience. These people seeking pleasure from visiting unknown places are evidently different from those remaining content with yearly get-togethers of the near and dear ones. According to experts in domestic tourism, the number of these travel-loving people has steadily been on the rise in Bangladesh. A lot of these tourists embark on thrill-laden journeys throughout the year. Online-savvy urban youths as they are, they look for fresher pleasure and suspense in unexplored sites. They get tour-related tips on the social media. Thanks to their connections online, the details of sites like Bichhanakandi in greater Sylhet or the unexplored beaches in Banshbaria and Guliakhali in Sitakunda continue to make the rounds among tourists.   

After decades of ventures undertaken by local tourists, domestic tourism appears to be finally taking root. It is the adventure-seeking youths who can claim the credit for beckoning the general tourists to the newly discovered spots. To the delight of tour enthusiasts, long hidden travel sites continue to surface on the tourist map of Bangladesh. The message is clear and filled with auspicious signs. In spite of its still being in the fledgling state, signs are there that domestic tourism in Bangladesh is destined to become a nationally important industry. Tourist sector insiders hope the contribution of domestic tourism will increase to 4.7 per cent of the nation's GDP by 2024. According to the latest reliable statistics, at present around 7,000,000 domestic tourists visit far-flung destinations in the country annually. The figure was 300,000 to 500,000 in the year 2000. Optimistic tourism experts hope the total to hit the figure of 10 million in the next 5 to 6 years. But they do not forget to emphasise effective policy framework for achieving this target. In fact, unlike in the neighbouring India or Nepal, the performance of Bangladesh in putting in place a fully tourism-focused policy, one targeting the domestic clientele, smacks of amateurism. Except the traditional and widely visited ones, few emerging tourist spots receive sufficient infrastructural support. During the peak tourist seasons, the older sites' authorities find it daunting to cope with the rush of visitors. With the pressure of tourists mounting, the existing facilities often reach their limit, and things at times go haywire. Compared to it, the plight of the newly discovered sites is understood. The decades-old Jaflong in Sylhet became a great attraction for middle-class tourists. But apathy on the part of the national tourism authorities detracted a lot from its charm. Not finding eating-out, leisure, adequate security and night time stay facilities, many tourists had already started shunning the spot.  Eventually it began losing its appeal, pushing the new-generation tourists into the region's Ratargul and other sites.      

Given the increase in the number of domestic tourists, optimists discover vast prospects for sight-seeing in the country. The comfortable statistical data back their enthusiasm. But a few others are wont to draw a lackadaisical picture. They cite series of drawbacks and disincentives standing in the way of domestic tourism's emergence as a potential sector. In their appraisal they include both socio-familial and economic factors. Apart from the ordinary middle-class people largely being home-centred, high expenses also discourage many from visiting places. Off-season tourism concessions and reductions, as seen in many countries, can help greatly in allaying monetary worries of the fixed-income tourists. Concessions have become common in the country lately, showing people with passion for tourism hop from one spot to another round the year.

The visits of overseas tourists to Bangladesh, most of them making a detour, from the neighbouring countries, have petered off --- at least for now. Whatever poor their number may have been, visitors from foreign countries once played a significant role in meeting the country's prerequisite of tourist diversity. Apart from breaking the visual monotony, they would add to the physical charm of a tourist site. Though chiefly monochrome, the domestic tourism now fills the gap.  Ordinary tourists have little choices. The Eid tours remain confined to the well-known sites only. During the Eid seasons most of the people rush to the three popular beaches --Cox's Bazar, Inani and Kuakata. Besides, the forest-covered and easily accessible hills, the Sundarbans etc also have their unique appeal for these tourists. Flip sides pop up. The frenzied rush of tourists in the peak seasons to the older sites continues to spoil their pristine beauty. It results in pollution, overcrowded accommodations and rise in petty crimes. On the other hand, the least visited and newly discovered spots have their own problems encountered in a tourism infrastructure in the process of growth. Few people are prepared to put up with the sites' drawbacks and squeeze out the thrill of adventure tourism. However, newer spots continue to be explored and become favourite in no time. The fast popularity of the long-obscure tourist sites, thus, spell out the potential for domestic tourism in the country. That it needs to be tapped without delay is no over-enthusiasm.

The larger and sprawling tour sites remain in shape thanks to the maintenance set-ups put in place by the authorities. Problem lies with the relatively unfamiliar and remote spots. Being informed about them in the media, many feel eager to visit these places. To their dismay, most of them are later found lacking in the basic tourist facilities. Nijhumdwip, Parky beach etc should have long emerged as mainstream attractions. Unfortunately, they still lie in a neglected state and are unknown to the ordinary tourists. It largely explains the stunted state of Bangladesh tourism. That people are discovering the thrill of tourism is great news. Youths in increasing numbers are coming out of their home confines. All this bodes well for a thriving domestic tourism sector.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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