The government undertook a plan to increase the number of foreign tourists by 70 per cent to 1.0 million by this year through a series of promotional activities. As the year 2016 has been marked as Tourism Year, boosting the country's tourism sector is of utmost importance.
Bangladesh has an immense potential to attract travellers, due to its rich cultural heritage and famous tourist spots, such as Cox's Bazar and the Sundarbans. Its tourism sector is known to have been growing steadily.
But the tourism sector incurred a huge loss this year due to the recent terrorist attacks. Since the Gulshan café incident, foreign tourists and visitors cancelled all their scheduled bookings in Bangladesh. If the trend continues, the sector may face severe setback in its business and count huge financial losses.
Of late, the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) has requested the authority concerned to constitute a special taskforce to support the industry. It placed a proposal to the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry citing ten points to bring back the normalcy in the country's tourism sector.
The tour operators, especially the inbound operators, have invested a huge amount of money following government's announcement of marking the tourism year. But due to recent terrorist attacks in the country, around 80 per cent of scheduled visits by foreign tourists has been cancelled and pushed the sector under stress.
In the proposal, TOAB urged the government to make our foreign missions and embassies active in the tourist generating countries by disseminating positive messages about Bangladesh to restore the confidence of the tourists. It said that immediate actions should be taken to save the country's emerging sector from further loss.
It may be mentioned that many countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, France, Belgium and Sri Lanka pursued similar activities after this kind of setback. They efficiently made it possible to propagate positive messages around the world saying that terrorism is a global crisis and tight security measures are in place for the tourists which brought back the confidence of the tourists.
Bangladesh should do the same to recover its losses. In fact, sustained demand for tourism, coupled with the industry's ability to stay resilient in the face of shocks, continues to underline its great significance and value as a key sector for economic development.
There is no denying that the tourism industry is well-known as a complete provider of services including transportation, accommodation, food, entertainment and hospitality services for the tourists. All these activities can enhance the economic development process by creating jobs, developing infrastructure and entrepreneurial skills, improving balance of payments, earning foreign exchange and export revenues.
Bangladesh, being located at the connecting point of South and South East Asian countries, is the home of the longest unbroken natural sea beach in Cox's Bazar and Sundarbans, the biggest mangrove forest in the world. The country has bountiful resources to offer to both local and foreign travellers with its scenic beauty, ethnic diversity, unique cuisine, rich heritage and historical sites, profound religious sentiments and much more.
The direct contribution of tourism to gross domestic product (GDP) was Tk.296.6 billion (1.9 per cent of total GDP) in 2014 and is predicted to grow by 6.1 per cent per annum to Tk.566.3 billion by 2025. Furthermore, in 2014, the total contribution of tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by this industry was 3.6 per cent of total employment which equals to 1,984, 000 jobs. By 2025, tourism is forecast to support 2,492,000 jobs.
However, the tourism sector of the country has not been able to reap much benefit despite its immense prospects. There are numerous reasons that stand as a hindrance to the development of the tourism sector in Bangladesh.
The basic infrastructure of the country has not been developed as yet. It is a matter of great concern for both the local and foreign tourists. The cities and towns of the country lack adequate number of good quality accommodation facilities, decent public transports, safe and secured roads, well-equipped hospitals, and access to clean water, hygienic foods and an uninterrupted access to electricity.
The community has yet to fully understand the value of the tourism sector and that of the tourists. The current law and order situation is also a barrier to the growth of the sector. Among other problems, lack of long term plan by the government and lack of modern recreation facilities, promotional activities, traditional weather forecasting techniques, sufficient safety and security system etc. are the vital ones in this connection.
On the other hand, lack of infrastructure and rehabilitation of farmers remain as major challenges towards implementation of an exclusive tourism park at Sabrang in Teknaf. Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority has started to implement the project recently.
Since the site is vulnerable to flood and storm surges, the developer or authorities will have to bear high expenses for embankments and landfills. A lack of urban infrastructure, such as telecom, water and power supplies and water treatment systems, are some of the major challenges to setting up the tourism park, according to a pre-feasibility study.
As about 44 per cent of economic activities in the locality depend on farming, the rehabilitation of farmers is a major concern. The site is part of the longest beach in the world. It is close to Saint Martin's island. A new coastal road can be a direct route from an upgraded airport.
The tourism park is being set up on about 1,027 acres of land at Sabrang, which will generate employment opportunities for about 25,000 people. It will be the first of its kind in Bangladesh and help attract not only tourists, but also investment from both home and abroad.
Ocean-park, golf course, hotels and resorts, duty-free shopping mall, food courts, souvenir shops, hospital, theatres, helipad, business centres, 3D aquarium and prayer hall will be set up in the zone. Tourists will also be able to take part in surfing, bungee jumping, buggy car driving, scuba diving and hang gliding.
However, all said and done, there is a need for doubling the efforts by the government to overcome the barriers in the tourism sector and recoup the losses sustained by the industry due to terror attacks.