The Financial Express

Putting tourism on the recovery path

Rangamati forest in Bnagladesh Rangamati forest in Bnagladesh

Bangladesh's tourism sector is set to stage a comeback defying the security threats in the wake of the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery at Gulshan, Dhaka on July 1, 2016. As per statistics of Bangladesh Bank (BB) the earnings from the tourism sector were close to the target in 2017. This is due to the political stability and steady economic growth that the country achieved in recent years. According to BB and the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), Bangladesh earned in 2017, US $324.28 million from the tourism sector against an income of US $163.21 million in 2016.
After the attack on the Gulshan café that left 19 foreigners dead, some western countries issued warnings to their citizens against visiting Bangladesh, a country with many spots of historical importance and natural beauty. The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) and the BPC said though the government set a target to attract one million tourists, some 620,000 foreign tourists visited Bangladesh in 2016. The number of tourists in 2015 was 600,000. The BTB and the BPC say although the country has entered a new year, the data on tourists in 2017 have not been updated by the Special Branch of Bangladesh Police. As per statistics of the BB and the BPC, Bangladesh earned US $163.21 million from the tourism sector in 2016 calendar year compared to US $145.74 million in 2015 clocking 11.99 per cent growth in 2016. Tour operators opine that as the country has prospects of earning at least US $1000 million from this sector, it should not remain complacent over such earnings.
The tourism sector had suffered a massive blow following the Gulshan incident. Tourism experts said that terrorist incidents happened in Istanbul, Brussels, Paris, Mumbai but the situation became normal there after necessary steps were taken by the concerned governments. Although the situation in Bangladesh also showed marked improvement after sometime, the political, social, cultural and religious leaders will have to work together to restore confidence of the world people. The number of guests at posh hotels like Pan Pacific Sonargaon, Westin, Radisson Water Garden, Amari, Lake Shore, Sarina and La Meridian increased during 2016. Chief Executive Officers of multinational companies, leaders of donor agencies and NGO leaders visited Bangladesh in large numbers.
Tourism industry experts opine that Bangladesh missions abroad should mull over appointing officials with proper training and proper knowledge to attract tourists from abroad. Especially in the face of allegations that Bangladesh embassy or high commission officials are not always cooperative in offering assistance when approached, such steps can help the country achieve its target of serving one million tourists per year by 2018. The Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) maintains that the government should open a separate desk at foreign missions for promotion of tourism and appoint people with adequate knowledge and skill on tourism to man those desks. According to TOAB, the relevant officials could be appointed from the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, Bangladesh Tourism Board, or other organisations specialised in this field. Such designated desks could help boost Bangladesh tourism by attracting more business people. If not for all missions abroad, the government should deploy such people in at least 15 to 20 countries that generate 80 to 90 per cent of tourists globally.
Terrorism is a threat to global peace and security and can strike any country at any time as we had the tragic experience of the Gulshan attack. The threat of terrorism is complex and unpredictable, and it is important for us to make use of a variety of tools at the national as well as international level in our fight against terrorism. A broad range of action against terrorism has been taken by the government including setting up special units to combat terrorism. But it is vital that the root causes of terrorism are addressed alongside combating the immediate threats. Bangladesh needs to contribute actively to enhanced international co-operation against terrorism. Some international communities have, over the years, worked on countering violent extremism through development assistance in regions exposed to terrorism and extremism. They should, therefore, be fully committed to the international cooperation in combating terrorism and should be a willing partner to Bangladesh's struggle for countering terrorism threats.
Former Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon said the government took some steps to generate about 350,000 jobs in the country's tourism sector by 2018. The government is targeting tourists from India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and China and has signed agreements with Malaysian and Thai governments to develop the tourism sector. Terming tourism the most prospective sector after readymade garments, the minister said the government would launch a campaign soon at home and abroad to promote the sector. However, as per the BPC the spending capacity of a western tourist is at least ten times what a South Asian tourist spends and, therefore, ways to attract western tourists should be given greater priority.
The earnings from the tourism sector recorded a steady growth during the period of 2010 to 2017 with exception in 2015 only. Records show that the earnings from the sector were US $324.28 million in 2017 against US $83.90 million in 2009. Experts in the sector have expressed their optimism that the travel and tourism sector will post positive a growth in the current calendar year, if tradition, heritage and remarkable development in socio-economic fields are appropriately projected abroad and if the government plays a supportive and facilitating role.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education cadre. Email: sarwarmdskhaled@gmail.com

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