The tourism industry in Sylhet, one of the most attractive tourist destinations of the country, has been recovering economic losses for last one and a half month after being halted for around four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the people concerned, tourists from different corners of the country have started to influx the district to enjoy its serene natural beauty and thus bringing new hope for the industry.
As tourism is the biggest income-generating sector for Sylhet, the new influx of tourists has revived related businesses including hotels and restaurants, boats, rent-a-car, tong shops, fast-food shops etc., which have experienced the Covid-19 induced economic crisis.
"The sector, which employs around 20 lakh people, had to count a loss of around Tk400 crore during the four-month shutdown," said Sunath Nury Jewel, director of Sylhet Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Among the trades, residential hotels and restaurants were mostly affected and conceded huge economic loss due to the pandemic.
Although the recent recovery has shown some rays of hope for business in this sector, traders are still cautious. They are trying to compensate for the losses by cutting the operational cost by decreasing the number of employees to more than 50 percent and cutting their salaries 30-50 percent.
Sunath Nury Jewel, also the president of Sylhet Hotel Owners Association, said, "There are around 300 hotels in Sylhet. Most of them are now getting guests and will be able to earn at least the operational cost. Last month (August), some hotels even secured a marginal profit."
Amran Hossen, chief executive officer of Hotel Grand Surma, told The Business Standard, "Although tourists have started to come, we are still not getting any profit. Therefore we have kept only 40 percent of our staffs and providing them 50 percent of their salary."
Like hotels, the restaurant business had also been closed from March to mid-July. Most of the restaurants reopened on mid-July with the permission of the administration.
Md Nuruzzaman Siddiqui, a business partner of Pansi Restaurant, one of the busiest eateries in Sylhet city, said, "Restaurants had incurred a big loss due to the pandemic. The business has still not returned to its previous state though it has reopened."
"Now the sales have decreased around 50 percent than before. However, we hope it will grow slowly in course of time," added Nuruzzaman.
Shanto Dev, president of the District Caterers Group, said, "There are more than 200 restaurants in Sylhet city and with the influx of tourists, they might be able to overcome the Covid-19 crisis."
He also explains, "Beside tourists, college-university students are the main customer of restaurants. If colleges and universities are not opened, the business will not go back to its previous state."
Besides hotels and restaurants, many other businesses are also depended on tourism in Sylhet. People related to these businesses echoed the same.
Makhlis Mia, who drives an engine-boat, said, "I carry passengers from Hadarpar to Bichanakandi. Now I can make one or two trips every day, however, the number was 10-12 each day before the pandemic."
Abul Kashem, an ornaments seller, said, "Business is now slowly starting but it is not like before."
"Earlier, on special days including public holidays, we earned Tk3-4,000 per day. But now it hardly reaches to one thousand," he added.
Gowainghat Upazila has the highest number of tourist destinations in Sylhet including Jaflong Bichnakandi, Ratargul, Lalakhal, Pangthumai.
Gowainghat Upazila Nirbahi Officer Nazmus Shakib said, "Many tourists are coming now. We are not stopping them now like during the Covid-19 shutdown time. However, we are not encouraging them too."
"We request everyone to come to the tourist centre following the hygiene rules," he added.
Our Sylhet Correspondent has contributed to this story