- During peak season – from December to March – around 3,000 tourists visited tourist spots in Bandarban daily.
- Daily turnover in the tourism sector there reached Tk50 lakh
- During any other time of the year, daily transactions would reach Tk16-17 lakh
- Resorts have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic
- There are about a 100 tour guides, who earned Tk20,000 to Tk30,000 a month in normal times
- Many people involved in tourism sector there will suffer if the situation does not improve soon
- Bandarban town is still under a "red zone"
Nilachal, a tourist spot 5 kilometres away from Bandarban town, is now covered in greenery. However, the grass is cut down before it grows too tall as this dense vegetation could easily turn into a small forest if left unattended for long.
"This would not have been possible if tourists visited the spot. The grass does not get a chance to grow if people come to the place often," said Ulafo Chak, an employee of Nilachal.
The entire Bandarban town can be seen from Nilachal. From the hilltop, at an altitude of 1,700 feet above sea-level, people can touch the clouds. As a result, the spot is usually abuzz with tourists and locals throughout the year.
However, the popular spot is now home to only plants as the Covid-19 pandemic has kept visitors away.
Other tourist spots in the district have also been in a similar situation for more than three months. There are no tourists at popular locations such as Keokradong, Boga Lake, Rajhuk waterfall in
Ruma and Thanchi upazilas. The Meghla, Shailprapat, Chimbuk and Nilgiri tourist spots are also closed.
Adip Barua, a ticket seller at the counter of Nilachal, said that during peak season – from December to March –around 3,000 tourists visit the spot daily. A ticket would sell for Tk50, earning the place Tk1.50 lakh per day from entry fees.
"Tourists and locals used to come to enjoy the beauty of the mountains during rainy season too; we would sell 300 to 400 tickets daily during this season," he added.
Sukumar Tanchangya, a ticket seller at Meghla Tourist Center, said 2,500 to 3,000 tourists would come to the place per day during peak season, and 1,000 to 1,500 tourists during the rest of the year.
Zakir Hossain, director of Holiday Inn Resort near Meghla, said his place has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are losing a lot of money. If the situation returns to normal, it will still take time to recover," he added.
Sairu Resort is located in the Y-junction area of Chimbuk hill, 18km from the town. Both local and foreign tourists used to stay at this expensive resort all the year round.
Resort Manager Mostafa Kamal said there are 27 rooms in Sairu which can accommodate 100 tourists. But he too is anxious as tourists have not arrivedat the place for a long time.
Shimion Tripura, finance secretary of Thanchi Tourist Guide Association, said that in normal times, an average of 200 tourists visit the spot every day to enjoy the beautiful hills.
"Some 6,000 tourists visit here every month. There are about a 100 tour guides here. A guide could earn Tk20,000 to Tk30,000 a month," he said.
Lal Suak Thar Bawm, a tour guide and former member of Ruma-Thanchi Tourist Guide Association, said 300-400 tourists visitedthe place every day to enjoy the beauty of Keokradong, Boga Lake and Rizhuk Falls.
"A guide here earns Tk20,000-25,000 per month in normal times. Hundreds of tour guides are in trouble as there have been no tourists here for the last three months due to Covid-19,"he said.
Industry insiders said that if the situation does not improve soon, tourism – the only industrial sector in the district – will face even bigger losses, affecting livelihoods of many people.
"December to March is the four-month tourist season. During this period, the daily turnover in the tourism sector reaches Tk50 lakh. Besides, during any other time of the year, daily transactions would reach Tk16-17 lakh," said Sirajul Islam, general secretary of the Bandarban Residential Hotel-Motel Owners Association.
Shamim Hossain,additional deputy commissioner of the district, told The Business Standard that despite the end of the 21-day lockdown, Bandarban town is still under a "red zone." There is no possibility of opening tourist spots before Eid-ul-Azha.
"However, all types of public transport have been allowed to operate on long-distance routes and in the district in compliance with all health directives," he added.