The outbreak of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has brought extreme misery to the tourism sector in Cox's Bazar.
While investors were waiting to see returns on their investments during the peak of the tourist season, Cox's Bazar – the world's longest beach town – appeared deserted because of Covid-19.
The plight that began in mid-March still exists in the town. Thousands of traders, who came into the tourism business taking loans at high interest rates or selling their properties, are now passing tough times.
The tourism industry that has played a significant role in the country's economy is now suffering. Traders are seeking government incentives or low-interest loans for the industry's survival.
More than 500 world-class hotels, motels and restaurants have sprung up in the Kalatali Hotel-Motel Zone along the sea beach.
Most of the residential buildings are run by second or third-party rental services while the star-rated hotels are running on loans from banks.
After the government-announced general holidays on March 26 this year, almost all the businesses related to tourism were shut down in the town.
Consequently, more than 400 residential hotels, 500 restaurants, and 200 tour operator offices shut and around half a lakh workers related to tourism in Cox's Bazar became unemployed.
Although they spent around one-and-a-half months with their savings, currently they are struggling with their families.
Due to the geometric transmission of Covid-19, Cox's Bazar was a "Red Zone" until June 30. However, business activities resumed on a limited scale from July 1.
According to the Cox's Bazar Chamber of Commerce and Industries, the district's tourism sector has lost more than Tk10,000 crore during the Covid-19 period.
The hotel-motel, restaurant and tourism businessmen are in fear of bankruptcy because of this situation.
They expected to have some business on Pahela Boishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr. However, the trade was at zero. They were also uncertain about whether they would have business in the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha.
Rezaul Karim, former president of the Tours Association of Cox's Bazar, said around 50 lakh domestic and international tourists visit Cox's Bazar annually.
"Many long-distance buses and 10-12 flights remain operational to serve the tourists on a daily basis. Hotels, motels, cottages, restaurants, and airlines have all been closed for the past four months. We are suffering losses worth one thousand crore," he said.
Abdul Quader Mishu, director of the star-rated hotel Ocean Paradise, said the striking hotel has been like a haunted house for the past three months because of the outbreak of Covid-19.
"Over a hundred of employees have been kept inside the hotel in compliance with the hygiene rules. During the first two months of Covid-19 period, we paid full salaries to the officers and employees from our funds. But, in June and this month, we are in extreme trouble," said Mishu.
"We have not been able to pay the staff yet. It will even be difficult to manage this large a property if the situation carries on this way some more time," he said.
He was worried about the increasing electricity bill as well.
So, he requested the government pay attention to the tourism sector to keep it operational.
Lion MN Karim, senior vice-president of the Cox's Bazar Hotel-Motel Owners Association, said that the novel coronavirus had brought darkness for the tourism industry.
"The star-rated hotels have been added to the tourism service with bank loans. However, I do not understand how to proceed with the current situation. The burden of debt is increasing gradually."
Though the banks did not force them for their monthly installments, they were worried about the installments, he added.
"The compounding interest is increasing our debt. If we continue like this for some more time, we will go bankrupt. Providing incentives and easy loans to tourism traders can help to overcome the situation and the industry can survive," he said.
Mohammad Shafi, owner of Fresh Inn Restaurant in Kalatali and finance secretary of the Cox's Bazar Restaurant Owners' Association, said about 300 beach-centric restaurants have sprung up in the tourism service.
"All restaurants are closed because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Many of the restaurants have bank loans and the interest rates are constantly rising," he said.
Ataus Samad Titu, owner of Maacharanga Restaurant in Kalatali, said that the pressure of loans, electricity bills, and hotel rent – all were complicating the tourism business.
"Though the hotels and restaurants pay revenue to the government annually, we are yet to get any response from the government. We hope that the government will be by our side in this difficult situation," he said.
Abu Morshed Chowdhury Khoka, president of the Cox's Bazar Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said that the tourism economy witnessed a downtrend as all the commercial activities in Cox's Bazar were closed for the past four months.
If it continues like this, the situation may deteriorate, he said.
"Already Cox's Bazar has lost more than Tk10,000 crore in trade and commercial activities. It is possible to avoid some of the losses if the business, trade and tourism institutions are opened in compliance with health directives," he added.
Kamal Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, said, "The government is paying special attention to the tourism industry. I have shared the matters with the concerned departments in writing."
If there is any allocation in the government's decision, it will be distributed accordingly. However, no incentive has been given so far, he added.