The government of Bangladesh declares 2016 as tourism year and set a target of one million tourists visiting the country. But uncoordinated initiatives and the threat of militancy struck forced the idea down.
The government did not disclose the number of foreign tourists in 2016, another sign of how far off the target the actual numbers were.
The pivotal factor in Bangladeshi tourism was the July 1, 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan where 17 foreign citizens were killed.
Nine Italians, seven Japanese and one Indian were among the 24 killed.
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Cox's Bazar, the longest natural sea beach in the world, is a popular tourist destination Dhaka Tribune
Following the attack, law enforcement agencies amped up their operations, but still have been unable to regain the trust of international tourists.
Before the Gulshan attack, about 500 Japanese citizens visited Bangladesh annually. After the attack, many of the Japanese citizens left. It took nearly six months for many development projects to get back on track because of the key roles held by the Japanese.
During a May visit to Japan, Finance Minister AMA Muhith revealed that the Japan International Cooperation Agency had only began permitting its male employees to go to Bangladesh, even then under strict security.
Masud Hossain, managing director of Bengal Tours Limited said that merely participating in various international fairs does not promote tourism.
“We don't determine our target market or list our tourism products. Before developing a market we need to identify our tourism products. To attract tourist we have to show them that we may not have Mount Everest or Goa beach, but we have Sundarbans and Cox's Bazar,” said Masud.
Only five Italians came to Bangladesh this year after Gulshan terror attack. Previous year, around 600 Italians visited Bangladesh.
Syed Mahbubul Islam Bulu, CEO of Riverain Tours Limited said: “In 2017, only five Italian tourists visited Bangladesh, which is a sheer drop from the 600 before the Gulshan attack. The Foreign Ministry has to do a lot to recover the confidence of the tourists. The Foreign Ministry officials are representing Bangladesh worldwide; they have to be the ones to salvage our image.”
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The Sundarbans, home to the Royal Bengal Tiger and the world's largest mangrove forest, is yet another popular tourist attraction in Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
Taufiq Uddin, CEO of Journey Plus said the government has to clearly explain why they have to participate in the international tourism fairs so that the industry people can plan properly.
“We need to market our tourism products and plan accordingly to tap the global tourism industry. The Foreign Ministry’s support is crucial to build the image of our country to the world,” he said.
Industry insiders said any tour operator knows that building an around-the-year capacity into your business is integral to driving growth and revenues. This is particularly important when it comes to attracting international visitors.
Person-to-person contact can also generate sales –a focal point of international tourism fairs. The foreign missions of Bangladesh can greatly help the Tourism Board in this regard.
Nasir Uddin Ahmed, CEO of Bangladesh Tourism Board told the Dhaka Tribune that the board participates in hundreds of tourism fairs to promote Bangladesh.
“We even bring local tour operators along to these international tourism fairs to promote them. But we need coordinated efforts from the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh, stakeholders, all the government ministries, especially the Foreign Ministry in order to tap the tourism business,” said Nasir.