Bangladesh is a country blessed by nature more than most other countries in the world. With all the natural beauties like the Bay of Bengal and the Sundarbans, Bangladesh surely is a place to discover for nature-lovers. The global legacy here is the Sundarbans - the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world where comprehensive spadework has been done, with the backing of the UN agency concerned - the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Now is the time to serve the recipe, in this and other fields of sightseeing and leisure-time entertainment.
Bangladesh has so long been sitting unaware with several treasure-troves for tourism untapped, including a few unique ones in the world, as is projected in the national print and electronic media. Apart from the bewitching mangrove forests of Sundarbans, another natural panorama lies in Cox's Bazar. The Cox's Bazar coast on the Bay of Bengal is also a unique one in that it is the longest unbroken sea beach in the world. The Bay, lying between South and Southeast Asia, is an important gateway that catches the imagination of all the big powers of the world including the United States, China, India, and Australia and so on. Little of the tourist interest in the flora and fauna of the Sundarbans - panoramic vistas of rare trees, spotted deer and the world-famous Royal Bengal Tiger, aside streams fraught with fishes and crocodiles - has been harnessed. Among others is Kuakata Island in the Southern Bangladesh from where scenes of both sun-rise and sun-set can be enjoyed and there is in Sylhet's Madhabkunda a small but attractive cascade where tourists can take bath if they like.
In Bangladesh government's yearbook, 2016 is the Tourism Year. The tourism ministry's preliminary prime agenda item to that end came out to be religious tourism, beginning with the Buddhists. A target has been set to attract a million tourists from China. From religious considerations, China is home to the largest population belonging to Buddhist legacy. The target is straight. Bangladesh has immense potential to explore this opportunity as there are over 500 Buddhist ancient monasteries and temples in the country against the total global figure of 6,000. And world's biggest Buddhist monastery is situated at Paharpur in Naogaon district. It is one the two rarities of potential tourist interest recognized by the UN as World Heritage Sites. Dhaka missions of all the Buddhist-majority countries were also involved with the preparatory process. Others are the pre-Mogul-era Saat Gambuz Mosque in Bagherhat, in the vicinity of the Sundarbans, is also designated by the UNESCO as a heritage site. The Mogul-era fort of Lalbagh Dhaka is worth seeing. And Durga Puja, the greatest religious occasion of the people having faith in Hinduism, was introduced as a formal festival in Taherpur of Rajshahi in the middle ages by King Kangsha Narayan. The two Eid festivals - Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha - observed by the country's majority Muslim population are also worth enjoying by the foreigners. Besides the observance of the Polhela Boishakh - the Bengali New Year's Day - and 21 February - the International Mother Language Day - are added attractions to the foreign tourists.
Though Bangladesh has a lot of beautiful natural and historical places for tourists, the tourism sector is not yet one of the best sectors the country that can rely on as a prime source of earning and nation branding. Tourism is already an important sector in many of the developing countries and will become so for many others. Developing countries have been fast growing in tourism industry in the world over the last decade. Increases in economic growth, disposable income and leisure time, political stability, and aggressive tourism campaigns, among other factors, have fuelled the significant growth of tourism.
However, Bangladesh has many disadvantages when it comes to tourism but it has many advantages of tourism sites. By the tourism sector we can introduce our nation to outer world and earn much more money to develop this nature's beautiful country, instead of hanging around the outmoded concept of export-led growth and depending singly on the stitching job in the RMG sector alone. So what are the odds on tourism front of the country, other than security concerns? Those have to be addressed and the tourist products decently prepared to serve to the backpackers from home and abroad. In this classification of tourists, sights have to be perfectly set on the tastes.
Looking at developments on the home front in the just-past year from this point of view, it could be said for sure that Bangladesh had been fortunate enough to circumvent a grave risk. The year that has just passed was, however, heralded with a peace-building effort in the political arena. The past mayhem had stemmed from the botched-up January 5, 2014 national controversial elections, boycotted by the opposition political coalition parties. The maiden political election to local government bodies in different municipalities saw the opposition parties back. The outcome triggered questions from all sides as the ruling party players almost swept the board clean. But, despite some tangible troubles, no tempest did blow out of that corner.
At this point of time there was coming foreboding from the reopening of the January 5 old wounds. People were apprehensive of an apparent clash course in the concurrent programmes in defence and denial of the tenth parliamentary polls on its second anniversary on January 5, 2016. A locking of horns, if the two arch political foes were headed off, could ultimately relapse into the politics of confrontation. And such eventualities do not augur well for the year-long drive for helping tourism flourish in this delta that boasts a few rarities made by nature and great artisans of the old times. But everything went well and peacefully. It seems a new era of peaceful political activities in the country has evolved which is conducive to tourism sector of this beautiful country.
Nevertheless, in the international front repeated security alert from big capitals for their citizens staying in or willing to travel to Bangladesh, from the eve of the year 2015, turns out to be a tricky disincentive for tourism. Time looks 'out of joint'. Not in Bangladesh alone, tourism industry, these days, is taking a tumble worldwide amid the reign of terror of varied stints. Terror strikes on a number of tourist havens in different countries sent in waves of bad messages for backpackers, in particular. Safety and a pristine ambience are an important element for tours and travels especially for enjoying spare time away from the daily rut of busy life. On this count, the Tourism Year as a major government agenda for 2016, unfortunately, faces odds. Even though there have not been any massive-scale sabotage of the kind in the country, some incidents that passed for action of militants and travel alerts by some developed countries may create a fear factor for tourists.
Tightening security measures and building a national awareness and unity against predators are considered by experts as two major tasks of the time, in greater national interest as a whole and for tapping the country's tourism potential in particular. Certainly that presupposes a workable continued calm on the political front. The countries which now burn amid civil strife and holy war by militants and counter-offensive by the US-led western coalition or the latest one that made a surprise appearance under the leadership of Saudi Arabia all had internal political discord of different modes and natures coupled with plots of external forces.
However, the first and most important problem that has to be solved in the menu preparation in the domestic front for Bangladesh is the facility of living and travelling to the tourist spots for tourists. The roads connecting Dhaka, the capital city, to the outlying tourist spots across the country are not totally safe and comfortable for the tourists. The vehicles, mostly buses or trains, which travel from Dhaka to those tourist spots, need to be more comfortable and safe for tourists' journey. Frequent accidents and bumpy roads add more to discomforts and disincentives. Then again, most of the historical places around the country don't have any comfortable tourist resorts, hotels or motels.
Though natural places like Cox's Bazar, St Martin's, Bandarban have some good accommodation facilities for tourists, other places like the remains of greatest historical and archeological places don't have that much. Although there are some tourism companies and travel agents, offering some tour packages, these are not enough for attracting and increasing the number of tourists in the country. More tour packages with various modern facilities should be introduced by the Parjatan Corporation. Though the tourism sector in the country is facing some odds, domestic and foreign tourists still crowd Cox's Bazar beach to enjoy their holidays. The government needs to make new plans as well as boost the advertisement for wide scale tourist attraction.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre. Email: [email protected]