Minhaj Kamal Faruqui, a resident of Dhaka's Agargaon area, works for a multinational company.
After being cooped up at his home office for five months amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he was gasping for fresh air.
Soon after, Cox's Bazar–popularly known as the tourism capital of the country–reopened to tourists on August 17, Minhaz along with his family visited the longest sea beach of the world from August 19 to August 22.
Unlike Minhaz many people are still refraining from going out as the pandemic is continuing to rage. However, most tourist spots across the country have been allowed by the government to resume their services, hosting lower than their respective capacities, for visitors to ensure compliance with social distancing.
Even though traveller footfall is still very thin in most of the tourist sites, industry people see the resumption of business after a few months of shutdown as a positive development. And, beaches in the coastal towns are drawing tourists in greater numbers compared to hilly sites.
Many hotels and resorts are offering attractive discounts to attract guests after reopening their businesses.
Authorities of hotels and resorts claim they are following the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which was recently published by the Bangladesh Tourism Board to operate the business amid the pandemic. They are also maintaining the guidelines of the World Health Organization, they added.
Tourists also are satisfied with the precautionary measures adopted by the hotels and resorts to keep Covid-19 at bay.
Minhaj Kamal Faruqui said during their tour of Cox's Bazar they stayed at two star-category hotels which offered them a 30 percent discount on prices.
"I found the hotels with a good number of guests and the health safety measures being followed there were satisfactory," he said, adding, "We travelled to Cox's Bazar by plane and found sufficient health safety measures there as well."
However, the tourists are not aware about wearing facemasks in an open environment.
Businesses yet to gain momentum
There are around 450 hotels, motels and resorts in Cox's Bazar.
Abul Kashem, general secretary of the Cox's Bazar Hotel Motel Guesthouse Owners Association, said, "Reopening the business is an effort to face the crisis. Although guest occupancy is yet to reach an expected level, it's a positive sign that we have restarted operations."
"The average guest occupancy is around 15 percent in different hotels compared to August last year. Around 40 percent of staff members are working at present, while the remaining others are on leave," he added.
"Although it's not the peak tourist season, it's a good time to see the rain near the sea. Therefore, rain lovers are now coming to Cox's Bazar as it has been raining for the last two weeks in the city," said Nizam Uddin Al Sumon, head of sales and marketing of Jol Tarongo – a five-star category rest house.
"We are offering a 50 percent discount until September 30 this year. To ensure social distancing, we are operating 60 percent of the total rooms in our hotel."
"The current guest occupancy at our rest house over the weekend is over 30 percent. However, people are knocking us to visit in the coming days," he added.
Kamrul Islam, general manager (public relations) of US-Bangla Airlines, said they are currently operating three flights from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar every day. To maintain social distancing they are running their airplanes at a maximum of 65 percent of passenger capacity, he added.
"The number of Cox's Bazar-going passengers has increased after Eid," he mentioned.
Meanwhile, hotels, motels and restaurants in the Kuakata beach area in Patuakhali reopened on July 1. Around 10,000 people employed by 130 hotels and motels in the area have resumed their work.
Due to heavy rainfall from early August, the number of visitors to the beach has decreased.
Arif Hossain, a staff who deals with room bookings in Parjatan Holiday Homes Kuakata, said, "The rainy weather has badly impacted the guest flow. We have lost some bookings because of the inclement weather."
"We have 76 rooms but only three of them are booked now," he added.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation has offered an off-season discount from July 1 to November 30 this year for its four hotels and motels in Cox's Bazar and Kuakata districts.
Hilly areas attract fewer visitors
The local administration has permitted tourist sites in the hilly areas of Chattogram and Sylhet to reopen. Hotels and motels in Bandarban reopened three days ago, and those in Rangamati have been open since early August.
However, unlike at beaches, tourism in these hilly towns is yet to gain momentum due to thin footfall of visitors, said industry insiders.
Alok Bikash Chakma, manager of Parjatan Motel Bandarban, said, "Although the flow of guests is very low, many people are contacting us to come. We are preparing to welcome our guests."
Meanwhile, Md Moyeen Uddin Khan, a conservator of the forest in Khulna circle, said they did not get any directive from the higher authorities regarding the reopening of the Sundarbans to tourists.
Resorts waiting for guests
Around 80 percent of over 200 resorts across the country have restarted their operations by maintaining health safety measures, according to the Tourism Resort Industries Association of Bangladesh (Triab).
Gazipur–the resort hub of the country–alone hosts more than 100 resorts.
SM Tariqul Islam, deputy commissioner (DC) of Gazipur, said, "We are giving permission to them who are applying to us to reopen their resorts."
Most of the posh resorts have restarted their operations, he mentioned, adding that the guest response is still very minimal.
Chhuti Resort at Joydebpur of Gazipur reopened on July 25 with a 50 percent discount offer.
Abul Hossain Aabir, head of sales of the resort, said guest occupancy in the resort has been around 15-20 percent since Eid-ul-Adha. Now the bookings are around 25-30 percent, he added.
"We have taken measures to maintain social distancing, as well as ensure the use of masks and hand sanitiser by both guests and staffers," he noted. He added, "We have also taken measures for temperature screening and set up a disinfection booth at the resort."