The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) has finalised the much anticipated tourism master plan with the goal of attracting 5.57 million foreign tourists annually by 2041 and fostering the creation of 21.94 million jobs within the sector.
The newly formulated plan has sought $1.08 billion public and private investment to develop 10 tourism clusters. The feasibility study of five of these projects are currently in progress, according to the Bangladesh Tourism Board.
Besides, the government will also invest $105.5 million to develop infrastructural facilities like roads, electricity and security.
The private investors will mainly invest in constructing star hotels, resorts, amusement parks and other luxury facilities.
According to industry insiders, the master plan offers a comprehensive roadmap to rejuvenate Bangladesh's struggling tourism sector, which, despite its significant potential, has been trailing behind neighbouring countries in attracting international tourists.
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, they said.
Last year, while Bangladesh welcomed 5.22 lakh foreign tourists, India received 6.19 million, Sri Lanka hosted 7.19 lakh, and Nepal attracted 6.14 lakh.
Abu Taher Md Jaber, CEO of the Bangladesh Tourism Board, told The Business Standard, "We will assess the tourism potential in Bangladesh and establish the essential facilities necessary for both tourists and investors. Additionally, we will identify suitable locations for private investors to develop hotels and resorts."
Emphasising that the primary objective of the master plan is to promote economic prosperity and create employment opportunities, he said, "The master plan serves as a detailed roadmap outlining the progressive development of our tourism sector. It encompasses specific regional plans tailored to each division of the country."
He added, "The master plan identified 53 clusters. Among these, 19 clusters hold a priority status. For instance, the region encompassing Srimangal and its surroundings is part of one such cluster."
On the matter of visas, he mentioned that an e-visa system for tourists eligible for visa on arrival is in the final stages of development, having received approval, and is currently undergoing implementation.
To achieve its objectives, the master plan has advocated infrastructural development including the construction of heliports, expansion of transportation networks, and the enhancement of accommodation facilities.
It also prescribed the execution of effective marketing campaigns, elevation of service quality standards, promotion of cultural and natural attractions, and the establishment of a secure and hospitable environment for tourists.
The master plan has identified 1,498 tourism resources across the country. Additionally, it has assessed 14 themes, taking into account factors such as market potential, uniqueness, resource availability, and sustainability.
According to sources, around 50 lakh Bangladeshis are employed in the travel and hospitality sector in the country.
Officials said the implementation of five tourism development projects under the master plan in Tanguar Haor of Sunamganj, Nijhum Dwip of Noakhali, Sompur Mahavihara of Paharpur, Sharankhola of the Sundarbans, and Mawa near the Padma Bridge will start soon.
"When the government will implement 10 development projects, it will create huge employment opportunities in the sector. Besides, the plan mentioned about the holistic strategies and approaches to attract foreign tourists that will ultimately play a role in employment generation," Sakshi Godara, project coordinator of the Preparation of Tourism Master Plan for Bangladesh told TBS.
IPE Global, an international tourism consulting firm based in India prepared the plan on behalf of the Bangladesh Tourism Board. The total expenditure for preparing the plan was Tk28 crore.
The drafting of the master plan began in January 2020 and completed in June 2023.
According to BTB sources, the final draft has been submitted to the Prime Minister's office for review. The National Tourism Council (NTC), chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is expected to grant final approval to the plan during its upcoming meeting.
Officials emphasise that the master plan is a long-term undertaking comprising numerous detailed initiatives aimed at developing Bangladesh comprehensively and establishing it as one of the world's premier tourist destinations.
Abu Taher Md Jaber, CEO of the Bangladesh Tourism Board, noted the need for a phased approach to execute the multitude of large-scale projects and initiatives outlined in the master plan.
In the initial implementation phase, the BTB is focusing on promoting the country's tourism products that are already prepared. Additionally, it is in the process of formulating several policies that are pivotal in driving inbound tourism.
Abu Taher Md Jaber highlighted their efforts to create a homestay policy, which has gained popularity among modern travellers. This policy is expected to play a crucial role in the growth of community-based or village tourism.