More than 5.29 lakh foreigners visited Bangladesh last year, guiding inbound tourism to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, thanks to the country lifting travel restrictions on foreign tourists in September of that year.
Most of these visitors were from India, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, the UAE, China, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Turkey, Russia and Japan, according to Immigration Police data provided by the Bangladesh Tourism Board.
With this, foreign tourist numbers last year grew 292% compared to the previous year's 1.35 lakh.
Bangladesh received only 1.35 lakh visitors in 2021 while the number was the highest in 2019 with 6.21 lakh visitors.
According to the central bank data, export receipts of services relating to travel were recorded at Tk3,079 crore in FY22 against Tk1,853 core in FY21, clocking 66.20% growth.
"We expect to handle 400 travellers in the current year as already 150 have completed their trip," Taufiq Rahman, chief executive of Journey Plus, a tour operating firm, told The Business Standard.
However, Syed Mahbubul Islam Bulu, proprietor of Riverain Tour told TBS, "Due to high ticket prices and the global economic situation, I am getting a low response from foreign guests."
He feared the upcoming national elections may negatively affect the tourism industry, recalling the government imposing restrictions on international travellers during previous elections.
Although the positive trend is continuing this year, tour operators are yet to be satisfied with the number of leisure tourists as they argue that most of the foreign visitors so far are business travellers, foreign job holders or non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs).
Data shows that inbound tourism in Bangladesh has always been dominated by NRBs. During FY19, NRBs accounted for 80.28% of tourists in Bangladesh and 19.72% were foreigners, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
Despite the vast potential, Bangladesh has not yet become a popular destination for foreign tourists in comparison with its neighbouring countries.
Poor tourism infrastructure, complex visa policies, food adaptation problems, lack of amusements, social restrictions and inadequate direct flights and comfortable transportation facilities detract tourists from Bangladesh, according to experts.
The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) has stepped up to attract tourists from neighbouring countries as the country logged the highest 2.24 lakh visitors from India in the first seven months of 2022.
Around 100 tour operators from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka recently visited Bangladesh with the invitation of the BTB.
"We think we will get more tourists from these countries," Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abu Tahir Muhammad Zaber told TBS.
However, the BTB CEO said, food is a major problem for tourists from North-East Indian states as many of them do not eat beef.
Restaurateurs should take the initiative to have vegetarian dishes in their diners, he suggested.
His office has written to the home ministry to simplify visa processing for tourists, Tahir Muhammad added.
Contribution to economy
Shiblul Azam Koreashi, president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), said the contribution of inbound visitors to the national exchequer depends on the economic growth in South Asia and Southeast Asian countries.
The roll-out of massive vaccination and successfully containing the pandemic across the region contributed to the growth in inbound tourism in Bangladesh.
The tourism sector of Bangladesh will also experience positive growth in 2023 as the global economy is getting on track despite some challenges, he added.
Foreign visitors in Bangladesh spent the most money (41.48%) on accommodation services, followed by food and beverage serving services (19.16%), shopping and purchase of different types of goods and services (12. 84%), and road passenger transport services (5.65%), according to the BBS.