Hosting a million

A number of promotions are currently being offered by the national air carrier, reputed hotels and concerned departments of the government involved with tourism to observe 2016 as tourism year in Bangladesh. Tourists and tour operators tell Sadiqur Rahman about the drastic improvements still required to boost the tourism sector of the country

PHOTOS BY SADIQUR RAHMAN

River Piyan, Sylhet

River Piyan, Sylhet

On October 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina revealed the idea for the promotional campaign ‘Visit Bangladesh Year-2016’ to strengthen the country’s tourism industry. While addressing the opening session of the International Buddhist Tourism Conference in Dhaka, the premier welcomed tourists from abroad to visit the country.
Also, on stage at the moment was Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), an United Nations affiliated organisation, who emphasised on improving the quality of domestic tourism first as it is ‘key for developing infrastructure’. ‘A country must be enjoyed by its own people first before it is viewed by others,’ he told the audience.
While talking to New Age Xtra, local tour operators and tourists pointed out that before declaring a tourism year, the government needs to develop the country’s tourism infrastructure, improve communications and prove that this country is safe for the locals and foreigners as well.
With its location by the Bay of Bengal and locked by land on the remaining sides, the tropical Bangladesh is resplendent with natural tourist spots like Cox’s Bazar, Sunderbans, Kuakata, Saint Martin’s etc. in numerous districts of the country. Also, due to its history and culture, our country has a considerable number of cultural and archeological sites.
But, except for a few, most of these tourist spots lack the infrastructure as well as communication required to encourage and sustain tourism in these parts. Additionally, the lack of awareness, about these spots, has created a situation where a large number of Bangladeshis have not visited most scenic and cultural sites of Bangladesh. Tourists question that if this is the case with inbound tourism, how then can the government hope to attract foreign tourists, if the prevailing problems are not solved primarily.
A government bank officer who visited several areas of Khagrachari, one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the country, shares her experience with New Age Xtra, ‘the food and accommodation is adequate for inbound tourists there. But the communication and utilities need to be improved in this area in order to attract more tourists.’

Lamarpara Buddhist Temple Ramu, Cox’s Bazar

Lamarpara Buddhist Temple Ramu, Cox’s Bazar

Under condition of anonymity, she continues, ‘There are many waterfalls in the hill tracts where tourists take baths in the cool and crystal clear water. While males can easily bathe in the open, female tourists cannot do the same as there are no facilities nearby where they can change into dry clothes that they are carrying.’
While discussing about potential improvements in this area, she suggests, ‘The government can set up toilets and washrooms in these tourist destinations.’ She points out that if properly guarded and maintained such accommodation can come to great use for tourists.
Mohammad Mahadi Hasan, a regular tourist and former joint secretary of the Dhaka University Tourist Society, shares that comfortable accommodation facilities in the South-eastern tourist belt is mainly Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar-centric. He opines, the government can promote construction of luxurious hotel in Bandarban from where tourists can easily roam around two other hilly districts [Rangamati and Khagrachari].
Hasan also adds, ‘Transport syndicates in the tourist spots often cheat travelers [mainly foreigners] by charging irrational travel fare thanks to lack of government monitoring, which is unfortunate. This can only tarnish our national image.’

Domestic tours in the country are still carried out largely by individual networking. Presently, there are a number of tour operators and travel agents doing business to assist itinerary for tourists.
Md Kaykobad, deputy manager of the Century Travel Services Ltd, regrets, ‘There is no international-standard airport in Khulna. Travelers hoping to visit Sunderbans or archeological sites of the region have to fly to Jessore airport and then travel by road to Khulna and Bagerhat. The condition of the link road in the area is extremely bad.’

Tajhat Palace, Rangpur

Tajhat Palace, Rangpur

He adds, ‘Developed infrastructure, security and good communication are very important to promote domestic tourism.’
Referring to recent attacks on foreigners in the country, Kaykobad urges total security for the tourists. ‘Tourists from abroad generally plan about tour six or seven months in advance. Hence, political stability is also important to make the Tourism Year successful,’ he says.
ABM Zakariya, chief tour counselor of the Tour de Culture, regrets that tourist spots in the northern belt are gravely neglected as more focus is placed on Sylhet, Chittagong and Khulna based-tourist belts, with more scenic spots. He says, ‘A good number of foreigners want to visit heritage sites mostly located in the impoverished Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions.’

But there are also those who are looking forward to taking full advantage of the motive behind the campaign in order to improve the sector to some extent.
MD Rafeuzzaman, vice president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), still feels that Bangladesh is ready to organise 2016 as the Tourism Year despite limitations. ‘Government and private organisations are now investing on tourism ahead of the year and these inputs will improve our strength within the competitive global tourism industry.’

Hamham fall, Sylhet

Hamham fall, Sylhet

Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), a wing of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (MoCAT), is coordinating preparations for the Tourism Year. To accelerate promotional campaign, BTB has developed an information-filled website– www.visitbangladesh.gov.bd to facilitate the planning and preparation of trips to Bangladesh.
The content in the website can be read in 91 languages. Some of the information on the site include briefing about Bangladesh, its history, geography, climate and culture. The website also provides geographical map of the whole country, though the road and rail lines are not provided on the map.
The website provides lists as well as schedule and contacts of transportations by air, road, train and water. Pages containing descriptive write-up on culture, food, heritage sites, schedules of fair and festivals, diversified ethnicities and attractive scenic spots, photos and videos can also be helpful for tourists.
Tourists can also find useful a number of different list including contacts of hotels, restaurants, foreign currency exchange points and emergency service centres, e.g. police stations, hospitals and fire brigades.
Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), a commercial wing of MoCAT, has already announced 20 to 30 per cent discount offers in accommodation and food services available in all its outlets for the overseas guests, during 2016.

Alutila cave track, Bandarban

Alutila cave track, Bandarban

Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national flag carrier, has also offered 10 per cent discount in airfare, during 2016.
Moreover, Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel will welcome its overseas and non-resident Bangladeshi guests with 50 per cent discount price on their single and twin-bedded accommodation [excluding VAT and service charge] and boarders could enjoy some other services free of cost during 2015-16 fiscal year.
Md Rafiquzzaman, additional secretary to MoCAT, informs New Age Xtra that the BTB will host a Beach Carnival in Cox’s Bazar on December 31, 2015 and the first day of 2016 to promote the Tourism Year.
He also shares that government is currently busy in repairing roads linked to some tourist destinations ahead of the new year. He also informs that his ministry is negotiating with some other government offices to arrange special transport facilities and on-arrival visa services for overseas tourists, during 2016. To promote the campaign, MoCAT wings have also been participating in tourism and travel fairs hosted by many countries.
Rafiquzzaman tells, ‘We are hoping that the people of Bangladesh will be able to host around a million tourists during the entire year of 2016.’

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