Bangladesh is a land of exquisite natural beauty. The landmass of the country constitutes a number of beautiful places and tourist destinations including rivers, sea coasts, religious places, waterfalls, hills, etc. Three of the 1007 World Heritage Sites are located in Bangladesh and those are the Sundarban, Sixty-dome Mosque in Bagerhat, Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur.
A large number of domestic and foreign tourists come here to visit and explore the beauty and serenity of this country. Bangladesh is known as South Asia's greenest jewel. It is intertwined together by more than 700 rivers, producing a wonderfully lush landscape with more shades of green than one ever imagined.
As a result, our travel and tourism industry is now being seen as a promising catalyst for the economic development of the country. In recent years, the contribution of this industry to our GDP has risen considerably.
In 2018-20, for example, the contribution has been 4.4%, while it was 4.2% during 2016-17. This improvement is also reflected in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Reports whereby the position of our country has been improving gradually (from 125 in 2017 to 120 in 2019).
The UN Secretary-General claimed that the tourism sector which consists of 7% of global commerce is affected seriously due to the pandemic. World travel and tourism council estimated that the pandemic has reduced 50 million tourism jobs and 75 million jobs are at risk globally. At present, as many as 0.3 million people who work in the travel and tourism industry are facing the risk of losing employment in our country.
As people have greatly reduced spending leisure time outdoors as a result of the pandemic so the travel and tourism industry has been shattered to an unprecedented extent globally. Bangladesh is one of the most affected countries in the world due to Covid-19 having faced a disastrous loss of about TK 40 billion this year as predicted by UNWTO. The Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) has estimated that the tourism sector may lose up to Tk 60 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. Again the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) predicted that COVID has caused a loss of approximately TK 97 billion in Bangladesh's tourism sector.
Nevertheless, this country has a chance to improve domestic tourism primarily because of its large population and potential tourism attractions. Adequate financial assistance to domestic tourism is a must to improve the livelihood of local communities as well as tourism service providers who have been directly affected by the pandemic.
The government and private stakeholders should maneuver and implement pertinent strategies endorsing domestic tourism in Bangladesh. The Tourism Board of Bangladesh, in collaboration with the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, has already taken some progressive steps to advance the river-centric tourism industry.
The national tourism development policy of Bangladesh accentuates the advancement of naval tourism by including it in the tourism master plan, which is being articulated for the synchronized expansion of the tourism industry of Bangladesh. In an attempt to boost the naval tourism industry, the Dhaka Cruise and Logistics launched a river cruise from the Shimulia ghat in the Louhajang Upazila of Munshiganj. Moreover, an inauguration of the Padma Cruise took place consisting of two daily cruise packages, along with work-in-progress of tourists' amenities near the Padma Bridge.
However, Bangladesh tourism organisations lag far behind regional competitors in attracting a significant number of foreign tourists. India accounts for about half of the entire people who visit Bangladesh. Almost all of the remaining people travel from the Asian nations. A mere 5% of tourists come from the United States, where just 7% arrive from the rest of the world. Inadequate and inefficient promotional activities have aggravated this situation.
Although vaccination has begun in our country, it is not irrational to claim that it will take more time for people to travel without the fear of transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Consequently, travelers will research to discover and thus choose the safest places to go before leaving their home for a vacation.
It has thus become more important than ever that we advertise more and more about the key spots and we have to show them the safety measurements which have been taken for safe traveling. Other than that, the government should take steps to train people involved in the industry to maintain the requisite safety measures to reduce the spread of the virus and to help tourists do the same.
The government must also make sure that the laws aimed at minimising the spread of contagious diseases (e.g. the Infectious Disease (Prevention, Control, and Elimination) Act, 2018) are properly enforced and reformed when needed, in the sense that if people are regularly punished for failing to comply with the safety standard, this will create a greater sense of awareness among individuals and organizations to keep themselves and others safe.
The steps mentioned above, are in our opinion, the most important ones for ensuring the short-term growth of the travel and tourism industry of our country and for minimizing the loss it has faced in the wake of the pandemic.
However, if the long-term improvement of the industry is to be sought, these steps must be accompanied by further developments in the areas of statewide public safety (e.g.
Bangladesh is consistently ranked above 100 in the Safety and Security Index of the World Economic Forum and tourists are warned by most overseas authorities to avoid traveling to southeast Bangladesh, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, because of increased incidents of crime, terrorism, and kidnapping), transport services (e.g. deaths by road accident increasing every year - claiming 788 more lives in 2019 than 2018) and accommodation facilities, along with a reduction in travel costs (e.g. $54 per day for a person to stay in
Bangladesh is unreasonably high when compared to $29 in India, $52 in Indonesia).
Rawnak Tahnia is a marketing enthusiast who is doing a double major in Marketing and Supply Chain from Brac Business School.
Owakila Tabassum Mumu is an aspiring writer, doing a double major in Marketing and Human Resource Management from Brac Business School, Brac University.
Tazrian Alam is a freelance contributor.
Novera Mahzabin is currently pursuing an LLB at Jahangirnagar University.
Mitua Rahman is a freelance contributor.
Arafat Reza is an LLB graduate from BPP University, UK.