Massive potential is tourist spots are connected with marine routes
For a country that has the world's largest mangrove forest, the port of Chittagong, sandy beach Cox’s Bazar, the beautiful Teknaf peninsula and eye-catching Saint Martin Island, sea tourism can help beat the Covid-19 blues by generating billions of dollars. All that is needed is an integrated initiative to connect these popular destinations through marine terminals, according to experts.
"Bangladesh has huge potential in the sea tourism sector. We just need an integrated initiative that will help the country generate robust economic growth," Dr Md Kawser Ahmed, professor of the oceanography department at Dhaka University, told UNB.
"We can earn billions of dollars through sea tourism if the Sundarbans, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and Saint Martin Island are connected," he added.
While sea tourism has the potential to help Bangladesh achieve developed country status by 2041, the government should take appropriate steps such as fixing environmental taxes for tourists at the same time, to not only generate revenue but also to protect the country’s valuable resources, according to Dr Md Kawser.
“We propose the government fix Tk500 for a tourist landing on Saint Martin Island and a minimum of Tk1,000 every night as environment tax. We hope tourists will pay this willingly. We should also pay toll tax on the Padma Bridge, like on the Jamuna Bridge," he said, also stressing the need to introduce scuba diving at Saint Martin to attract tourists.
The professor said Bangladesh can be a prime destination for foreign tourists in South Asia.
“Bangladesh can take an initiative in the future to connect Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and India with marine routes. Government-to-government agreements are needed to make this a success,” he said.
Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Khandoker Golam Moazzem said tourism is needed in the country, but not at the cost of the environment.
“We have to give higher priority to the environment. We cannot destroy our resources in the name of tourism. We have to conserve the coral too," he added.
Dr Khandoker said the government must embark on a long-term plan to run passenger vessels in the seas while prioritizing nature.
“If the plan is taken, then domestic and regional tourists will visit the spots and the tourism sector will play a significant role in Bangladesh's economy,” the economist said.
Shiblul Azam Koreshi, the owner of Abakash Parjatan on Saint Martin Island, said the island is not that attractive for tourists nowadays.
“Around 2000 tourists visit the island daily during the peak season (December to February). Now, few domestic tourists visit the island due to bad weather and Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The vice president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) also said that sea tourism will bolster Bangladesh's economy. "The government is building a tourist zone in Sabrang of Teknaf. Now tourists can enjoy the Bay of Bengal utilising the world’s longest marine drive."
“The government should focus on the blue economy to tide over the economic crisis. As Bangladesh won in the maritime boundary case with Myanmar and India in the International Tribunal, there is no problem in the Bay of Bengal. Ocean economy, known as the blue economy, offers opportunities in fishery, mineral resources, shipping and energy as well,” he said.
Shiblul said there are now 150 Abakash and 70 restaurants on Saint Martin Island. “The government should also set up a 'waste treatment plant' here as soon as possible. Moreover, the solar capacity should be improved to light up the site,” he said.
Bangladesh has the right to fish and explore resources within 118,813 square kilometres of the Bay of Bengal. Sources said the ocean contributes around $ 6.0 billion annually to the Bangladesh economy. The gross value addition (GVA) of Bangladesh’s ocean economy was $6.2 billion in 2015.
The total contribution of the tourism and travel sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh was Tk840.2 billion or 4.3% of the country’s GDP in 2016, according to Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) data.
As per the World Travel and Tourism Council ((WTTC), the sector is expected grow by 7.1% each year, raising the total contribution to Tk1,783 billion or 4.7% of the country's GDP by 2027.