South and south-east Asian countries have become some of the most visited tourist destinations in the world in the past two decades. But while countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, India or Indonesia receive millions of international tourists every year, Bangladesh only received 125,000 international tourists in 2019.
This poor showing is not caused by a lack of attractions in the country. Besides the world's longest sea beach and the Sundarbans, Bangladesh has beautiful hills, valleys, bustling cities, historically and culturally important landmarks and a diverse and vibrant culture. So why do we still lag behind?
A look at the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019 can give us a better idea about our deficiencies. As a whole, the country ranked 120th among 140 countries. Compared to the average score of other south and south-east Asian countries, Bangladesh is lacking in many key regards.
The poorest performance can, perhaps, be seen in the tourist service infrastructure criteria which includes key services like quality accommodation and rental services. Bangladesh ranks 133rd in this area, scoring 1.9, well below the global average of 4.
Other areas also do not look promising. The country has ranked 120th in the usage of human resource, 116th in environmental sustainability, 11th in air transport infrastructure and ICT readiness.
It is apparent that we are way behind in the global tourism industry.
Weak inland and port infrastructure was once thought to be a detrimental thorn in our tourism industry. This, however, is not the case anymore. In fact, we are at the global average in that regard. Thus, weak inland transport infrastructure is no longer an excuse.
As a result, boosting tourism in Bangladesh will take a holistic approach and combined effort from both the government and private entities. This can be achieved by providing subsidies, creating public-private partnerships and creating a business-friendly environment.
To incentivise the construction of quality accommodation and other facilities, businesses should operate with easy lending terms that include a small interest rate.
The government should also maintain strict hygiene regulation and establish quality control mechanisms for hotels and other facilities in key tourist destinations in our country.
International openness is also a factor in desperate need for government attention. Bangladesh needs to negotiate more bilateral air service agreements to facilitate a smooth travelling experience for the tourists.
Concurrently, air transport infrastructure also needs to be improved. The government has to build more airports in key locations for both domestic and international travel. Airlines should also be incentivised to increase the number and quality of their aircrafts.
As a conservative culture, we often struggle to accept tourists amid us. The government needs to educate the locals around key tourist spots to ensure that foreigners receive the same quality of hospitality Bangladesh is known for.
All of these policies are quite feasible if the government is willing to act. Unfortunately, tourism often gets neglected during policy-making sessions in Bangladesh. In fact, the aforementioned index ranks our country 121st in terms of the prioritisation of travel and tourism.
Our government expenditure in this sector is much smaller than our neighbouring countries. There is also a distinct lack of effective marketing and branding efforts to attract tourists.
Travel agencies should always have comprehensive and well-maintained websites which will host documentaries, locations, site views, accommodation costs and transportation costs, making the process of travelling to our country a lot more accessible and a lot less intimidating.
The government should also put up advertisements in the international media and online platforms. Sponsoring different initiatives, especially sports teams, will also be effective in attracting tourists to our country.
As Bangladesh graduates from the status of least developed countries, the manufacturing sectors will certainly take time to adjust to the new market conditions. Tourism, however, will not be subjected to these new regulations.
As a result, this sector can help the economy absorb any shocks that may come with LDC graduation. Besides, it would be terribly inefficient if a sector filled with endless possibilities and potential is left unimproved.
Saurav Roy is a student of International relations at Jahangirnagar University. He can be reached at [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.