While most of the neighboring countries and other popular tourist destinations of the world have prepared their standard operating procedures (SOPs) to reopen their tourism and hospitality sectors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh has yet to finalise one.
Tour operators and hoteliers said an SOP declared by the government is necessary to attract tourists and visitors plus maintain upcoming bookings.
Although the pandemic has stopped the movement of tourists all over the world, some of the upcoming bookings of inbound tourists to the country have not been canceled, according to tour operators.
"We have scheduled plans for Japanese tourist groups intending to visit Bangladesh in October-November this year that have not been cancelled yet. However, our Japanese counterparts are seeking an SOP declared by the government to convince the tourists about [the safety of] their visit," said Masud Hossain, managing director of Bengal Tours, an inbound tour operating company.
"Most of our neighboring countries – including India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan – have already prepared operating manuals for their tourism industries," he added.
Among these countries, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Tourism and Aviation released draft operational guidelines on preparedness and response for the Covid-19 outbreak for its tourism industry on May 4 this year.
Toufiq Rahman, chief executive of Journey Plus, said, "We would not get foreign tourists without a standard operating procedure. I have faced inquiries on this issue from my European counterparts."
He added that an SOP mentions detailed procedures of the whole journey of a tourist including: dealings with the tour guide, staying at hotels, meals in restaurants, and so on.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has released a set of guidelines recently to help the tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainable from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The guidelines highlight the importance of restoring the confidence of travelers through safety and security protocols designed to reduce risks at each step of the tourism value chain.
The protocols include the implementation of procedures including: temperature scans, testing, physical distancing, enhanced frequency of cleaning, plus the provision of hygiene kits for safe air travel, hospitality services and safe events.
Earlier, the World Health Organization released interim guidance of operational considerations for Covid-19 management in the accommodation sector on March 31 this year.
"Following the guidelines of the UNWTO, every country must formulate its own operating manuals. Although most of our neighboring countries have declared SOPs, we are still working on ours," said Mohammad Saiful Hasan, deputy director of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB).
"It will be finalised by June 15 this year. When we have a government-declared SOP, the visitors and tourists will be confident about visiting the county," he added.
Jabed Ahmed, chief executive officer of BTB, said, "We have formed a committee including the private sector representatives to formulate an SOP. After preparing this, we will send it to the civil aviation and tourism ministry."
Although the tourism ministry has not yet declared an SOP, the chain and star category hotels are following their own operating manuals.
Some five-star hotels in the country never stopped their operations fully during the shutdown period over the novel coronavirus outbreak. The hotels that had stopped operating have resumed their services too.
"Radisson hotel group has announced an international guideline for all of its hotels across the world. We are conducting our operations following the guidelines," said Sharfuddin Newaz, director (Sales and marketing), Radisson Blu Dhaka.
Shahid Hamid, executive director of Dhaka Regency Hotel and Resort, said, "We, the hoteliers, made our own manuals and chain hotels are following their company guidelines. However, there is no alternative to detailed operating manuals authorised by the government to reopen the sector amid pandemic."
"I was informed that the BTB has started working on preparing an SOP. However, it is too late as most of the countries have already prepared their SOPs," he added.